As the British Flat Season draws towards its close, a series of Group 1 contests help to define the leading juveniles of the year and often play a significant role in shaping the ante-post winter markets for the following year’s Classics.
Among these races is the Middle Park Stakes, a 6 furlong contest for colts, which helps to establish the best of the sprinting two year olds. The race takes place on Newmarket’s Rowley Mile in October and often brings together a mixture of leading early to mid-summer two year olds and slightly less exposed, well-bred youngsters from the leading stables.
The Middle Park Stakes was founded by William Blenkiron, and takes place in commemoration of the stud he ran at Eltham. The race was established in 1866, and was initially titled the Middle Park Plate and was originally open to horses of either gender.
The race was formerly staged during Newmarket’s Cambridgeshire Meeting in late September or early October and became restricted to colts in 1987.
The Middle Park Stakes was added to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series in 2012. The winner now earns an automatic invitation to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint.
The first winner of the race was a horse called The Rake in 1866 and just five years later, the 1871 winner was called Prince Charlie and the following years he went on to become the first colt to land the Middle Park-2,000 Guineas double.
Four years after Prince Charlie, Petrarch also won both races and for good measure also took the St Leger of 1876 and later in his career won the Gold Cup at Ascot. Not many horses could claim to win major contests from such extreme distances and the majority of Middle Park winners were of course out and out sprinters.
A year after Petrarch had won the Middle Park, Chamant became the first horse to win both the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes and the following year he also added the 2,000 Guineas.
The following decade threw up another top class winner as the filly Busybody won the 1883 Middle Park and followed-up in the 1,000 Guineas and Oaks the next year. Just a year later the race was won by Melton who would go on to win the 1885 Derby and St Leger. Already the Middle Park Stakes was firmly established as a producer of Classic winners.
In 1885 a colt called Minting won the Middle Park Stakes and the giant colt won the prestigious Grand Prix de Paris in 1886, although unfortunately he was sired in the same year as the great Ormonde and often played second fiddle to one of the greats of Turf history.
In 1887 there was a brilliantly precocious colt called Friar’s Balsam and he swept through the British juvenile pattern races, winning the New Stakes, July Stakes, Richmond Stakes, Middle Park Stakes and Dewhurst Stakes. After bursting an abscess in his mouth during the 2,000 Guineas, he later returned to beat Minting in the Champion Stakes of 1888.
Another brilliant colt appeared in the 1888 Middle Park Stakes, which was won in terrific style by Donovan. The colt had started off winning the Brocklesby Stakes at Lincoln and later won at the Royal meeting. After landing the Middle Park Stakes Donovan stepped up to 7 furlongs and became the latest horse to add the Dewhurst Stakes and by the season’s end, had won 11 of his 13 races. As a 3 year old, Donovan won the Derby and St Leger and was denied a Triple Crown by just a head in the 2,000 Guineas.
Orme also completed the Middle Park-Dewhurst double in 1891 and later became an outstanding stallion. The following year the great Isinglass won the Middle Park and he went on to win the English Triple Crown of 1893.
Isinglass actually took on the next winner of the Middle Park, a top class colt called Ladas. Owned by Lord Roseberry, who became Prime Minister, Ladas added the 2,000 Guineas and Derby in 1893 but was twice beaten by Isinglass before failing in his Triple Crown bid.
In 1895 St Frusquin won the Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes and went on to win the 2,000 Guineas of 1896. The following year Galtee More won the Middle Park and went on to Triple Crown glory in 1897. By the end of the 19th Century, the Middle Park Stakes was firmly established as the outstanding race of its genre.
One of the all-time greats won the 1903 Middle Park Stakes as Pretty Polly started to establish herself. By the end of the following year the brilliant filly had won the Fillies’ Triple Crown and ended her career victorious in 22 of her 24 races.
Bayardo became the latest dual winner of the Middle Park and Dewhurst Stakes in 1908 and the following year won the St Leger.
The Middle Park Stakes continued throughout the First World War and in 1919 the race produced a hugely dominant colt in Tetratema, who ended the season the leading juvenile by a record margin. He went on to win the following season’s 2,000 Guineas.
Call Boy won the 1926 renewal and after running well in the following year’s 2,000 Guineas, added the Epsom Derby.
Orwell had a rare distinction as he became a leading juvenile during 1931. He was in fact one of the last notable horses to race without being named initially and won the Champagne Stakes and Middle Park during a glittering career. The following year he was also good enough to win the 2,000 Guineas.
Three years later the great Bahram gave notice of his immense talent as he won the Gimcrack Stakes and Middle Park Stakes. In 1935 he was a fantastic winner of the Triple Crown and became the last horse to accomplish this feat before Nijinsky in 1970.
Scottish Union won the Middle Park Stakes in 1937 and went on to win the St Leger a year later and as the decade ended, the great French colt Djebel won the race in 1939 and would go on to win the Prix D’Essai, 2,000 Guineas, Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in a glittering career.
The Second World War did not stop the Middle Park Stakes but the 1940 renewal took place at Nottingham and was won by Hyacinthus. The next year the outstanding filly Sun Chariot took the race for King George VI and the following year completed the Fillies’ Triple Crown.
Another legendary name appearing on the Middle Park Stakes roll of honour from the 1940s was Dante, the 1945 Derby winner and the last northern trained colt to win that great Epsom race.
The stunning grey colt Abernant won the 1948 Champagne Stakes and Middle Park Stakes before embarking on a staggeringly successful career as a sprinter, dominating the division in 1949 and 1950.
Nearula became the first significant winner of the 1950s when he won the 1952 Middle Park Stakes. The Yorkshire trained colt won the following season’s 2,000 Guineas, St James’s Palace Stakes and Champion Stakes in a fabulous career. Our Babu was another notable winner of this decade, following up his 1954 Middle Park triumph with a win in the 2,000 Guineas.
Bold Lad and Petingo were smart winners of the race in the 1960s but both failed to add Classic glory the following season. Right Tack however, won the 1968 Middle Park Stakes and the following season became the first horse to win both the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Two years later, the new decade started with another legendary name, because in 1970, Brigadier Gerard sealed an unbeaten two year old career, with victory in the Middle Park Stakes. Despite his win, Brigadier Gerard was rated inferior to the brilliant My Swallow and Mill Reef; but the following season beat both colts convincingly in the 2,000 Guineas, before embarking on one of the greatest ever racing careers, winning 17 of his 18 races.
In 1971 the Middle Park Stakes went to a colt called Sharpen Up, who failed to make much impact as a 3 year old but became an outstanding sire. Among his progeny was the outstanding miler Kris and Kris’s full brother Diesis, who would play his own part in the history of the Middle Park Stakes.
Formidable was another colt who would go on to be a successful stallion after winning the 1977 Middle Park Stakes and the decade ended with victory for the very talented miler Known Fact, who won the following year’s 2,000 Guineas on the disqualification of Nureyev – and later defeated Kris in the Queen Elizabeth IInd Stakes.
The 1980 Middle Park went to Mattaboy, a colt who was narrowly defeated by To Agori Mou in the 1981 2,000 Guineas. Then after Cajun had won the race for Sir Henry Cecil in 1981, the Champion Trainer added a second consecutive Middle Park Stakes in 1982, through Diesis. The son of Sharpen Up, racing in the apricot silks of Lord Howard de Walden, was a fully brother to Kris and then won a sensational Dewhurst Stakes in which the long odds-on favourite and so-called “wonder horse” Gorytus was virtually pulled up amid allegations of doping. The headlines rather robbed Diesis of his achievement in winning the double and he became the last horse to win both the Middle Park Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes, although he sadly failed to reproduce his form in 1983.
In 1983 there was a shock winner of the Middle Park Stakes as Cecil’s red hot favourite Vacarme was comprehensively beaten by the outsider Creag-an-Sgor. The following year Bassenthwaite took the race.
With Stalker and Mister Majestic winning the Middle Park Stakes, there appeared to be a growing trend with the race producing future sprinters rather than Classic contenders. Gallic League’s 1987 victory maintained the trend although he beat future top stallion Rahy and the top class colt Persian Heights, who would win the St James’s Palace Stakes and be disqualified after finishing first in the Matchmaker International Stakes of 1988.
The decade ended with back-to-back victories in the Middle Park Stakes for Newmarket trainer Ron Boss, thanks to Mon Tresor and then the surprise winner Balla Cove.
The 1990s began with a live Classic threat however, as French trainer Andre Fabre sent his promising colt Lycius to Newmarket having finished second to the outstanding French juvenile of the year, Hector Protector. In the Middle Park Lycius showed great class to defeat the smart two year old Distinctly North and the following year finished second in the English 2,000 Guineas, third in the Irish equivalent, second in the July Cup and second in the Prix Jacques Le Marois.
The performance of Lycius seemed to give the Middle Park Stakes an injection of impetus and the 1991 renewal was won by one of the season’s great two year olds. Peter Chapple-Hyam was a first season trainer and enjoyed tremendous success with Dr Devious, who would go on to win the following year’s Derby. However Chapple-Hyam had another string to his bow in the exciting chestnut colt Rodrigo de Triano. The son of El Gran Senor had won all four races en route to the Middle Park, most notably the Washington Singer Stakes and Champagne Stakes and at Newmarket, he quickened well to beat another Fabre raider in Lion Cavern. The following year Rodrigo de Triano became the first colt since Known Fact to add the 2,000 Guineas to his Middle Park victory and for good measure also won the Irish 2,000 Guineas, Juddmonte International Stakes and Champion Stakes in a stellar career.
Fabre was back for the third year running in 1992 and this time his unbeaten colt Zieten made short work of Pip’s Pride, Factual and Silver Wizard. The following year First Trump led home a one-two for Newmarket trainer Geoff Wragg, with the runer-up Owington going on to win the July Cup in 1994, while Turtle Island, only fourth in the Middle Park, was a superb miler who ran away with the Irish 2,000 Guineas.
Fard won the first of two Middle Parks for trainer David Morley in 1994, but failed to hit those heights again. Then in 1995 Royal Applause crowned a magnificent juvenile campaign by adding the prize to his earlier Coventry Stakes and Gimcrack Stakes victories in an unbeaten run of four victories. The following year Barry Hills’s colt failed to stay in the 2,000 Guineas but as a 4 year old proved a top class sprinter.
Bahamian Bounty won the 1996 Middle Park Stakes but disappointed in the Dewhurst Stakes and the following year David Morley was back in the Winners’ Enclosure thanks to Hayil. Tragically Morley passed away early the next year and the horse moved to the French yard of Freddie Head but never made an impression. The Middle Park Stakes really underlined the training prowess of David Morley who had successfully trained National Hunt horses since the early 1970s and was a hugely popular figure.
Throughout the 1990s David Loder’s stock had risen sharply off the back of his wonderful training skills with juveniles. Training two year olds exclusively for Sheikh Mohammed, Loder had perhaps one of his finest successes when Lujain positively bolted up in the 1998 Middle Park Stakes, beating Bertolini by 4 lengths. The colt then took part in a fabulous Dewhurst Stakes but failed to show the same form again.
With the Rowley Mile’s new grandstand under construction, the 1999 Middle Park Stakes was run on the July Course at Newmarket and went to the progressive colt Primo Valentino, winning his fifth consecutive race, having also won the Mill Reef Stakes a month earlier. Invincible Spirit might have finished last in that race but went on to become a fine stallion.
The new Millennium had seen the ascendency of the new master of Ballydoyle, with Aidan O’Brien making his mark quickly in the preceding 3 years. Further success came in 2000, largely through the exploits of Giant’s Causeway. He also had a smart juvenile colt in Minardi, who lost his maiden by winning the Group 1 Phoenix Stakes and followed-up in the Middle Park Stakes. Sadly Minardi could only finish fourth in the 2,000 Guineas and third in the Irish Guineas the following year.
In 2001 O’Brien won his second Middle Park when the brilliant colt Johannesburg made it six out of six with an easy 3 length victory over Zipping. The colt duly travelled to America and won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile race but failed to make the same impact at three.
The lightly raced colt Oasis Dream went into the 2002 Middle Park Stakes having won a small maiden at the third time of asking. His trainer John Gosden must have known the potent force in his stable as he gave the colt a huge step up in class but Oasis Dream was fast improving and comfortably despatched Tomahawk, Elusive City and Zafeen. The following year, he went on to become an outstanding sprinter, winning the July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes.
There was controversy in 2003 as the Coventry Stakes winner Three Valleys finished first past the post but was disqualified after a banned substance was discovered. Balmont was promoted to first place.
Aidan O’Brien was back to winning ways the following year as his unbeaten colt Ad Valorem narrowly won the Middle Park Stakes but the colt had an interrupted career thereafter, although proving a useful miler.
The following year Kevin Ryan had a major success as his Gimcrack Stakes winner Amadeus Wolf followed-up at Newmarket. He failed to stay in the following year’s 2,000 Guineas but proved a very useful sprinter.
In 2006 the exciting colt Dutch Art won the Norfolk Stakes and Group 1 Prix Morny, before winning the Middle Park Stakes to extend his unbeaten run to four. He ran well to finish third to Cockney Rebel in the 2007 2000 Guineas before dropping back in trip and running second in the July Cup and Prix Maurice de Gheest.
Dark Angel was having his eighth run of a busy year when winning the 2007 Middle Park Stakes and after one last unsuccessful run in the Dewhurst Stakes, built a burgeoning stallion career off the back of his Newmarket victory, retiring to stud at the end of his juvenile season. Having won the Prix Morny, Bushranger won his second Group 1 when winning the 2008 Middle Park Stakes for trainer David Wachman but failed to make an impression at three.
Awzaan improved sharply during 2009 and having won the Mill Reef Stakes, duly landed a quality Middle Park Stakes from Radiohead, with the exciting future stallion Showcasing in third. Awzaan went into the following year’s 2,000 Guineas unbeaten in 4 races but failed dismally and was never the same colt again.
The Prix Morny again proved significant in 2010 as Dream Ahead won that Group 1 race on just his second start. In the Middle Park Stakes, David Simcock’s charge faced soft ground and positively revelled in the conditions, pulling an incredible 9 lengths clear of the smart Strong Suit in a palpably exciting performance. He was expected to give a good account of himself in the Dewhurst Stakes but ran no sort of race in the event. Even his best would probably have not been enough though as the race was won by Frankel. As a 3 year old Dream Ahead failed to stay a mile effectively on the track and reverted to sprinting, winning the July Cup and Betfred Sprint Cup and then adding the Prix de la Foret in a magnificent career.
The first Future Champions’ Day arrived in 2011, with the Middle Park Stakes moved to the same day as the Dewhurst Stakes. The Middle Park Stakes had an unusually large field of 16 runners. In the event, the result provided a shock as the virtually unconsidered Aidan O’Brien colt Crusade won but sadly never again reproduced that level of form.
In 2012 Reckless Abandon became the latest horse to complete the Prix Morny-Middle Park Stakes double, having already won the Norfolk Stakes and Prix Robert Papin. He ended the year unbeaten in 5 races but ran well without winning as a 3 year old sprinter.
The 2013 Middle Park Stakes saw Kevin Ryan back to winning ways as his progressive colt Astaire made it four victories from five starts, having earlier won the Gimcrack Stakes. Astaire and his main rivals Hot Streak and Justice Day all went on to compete reasonably well in sprints the following season.
In 2014 the race was set to be the crowning glory for the outstanding juvenile Ivawood. However, in rain-softened ground, it was the progressive Godolphin colt Charming Thought, who narrowly lowered the colours of the hitherto unbeaten favourite. Charming Thought suffered a set-back in the spring of 2015 which kept him off the track all season.
In the spring came news that the Middle Park Stakes would once again be restored to its traditional date at the same meeting as the Cambridgeshire Handicap in late September. This meant that the race would once again take place a couple of weeks before the Dewhurst, giving the winner the opportunity to complete the double.
A good field assembled for the 2015 race, with the outstanding colt Shalaa again proving too good for his rivals and beating Buratino by ½ a length to confirm himself Europe’s Champion Two Year Old Sprinter.
In 2016 the prize went back to the north as the Mark Johnston trained The Last Lion caused a surprise.
Then in 2017, the improving U S Navy Flag, impressed in winning the Middle Park Stakes. A fortnight later, he became the first horse since Diesis, in 1982, to complete the Middle Park-Dewhurst Stakes double, ending the year as the leading juvenile colt.
Certainly the Middle Park Stakes does not hold the same sway it did 50 years ago, when it was a major pointer to the following year’s Classics. Often the speedier early season type of horse competes in the race nowadays and it has perhaps more bearing on the following year’s major sprints. However every so often a Rodrigo de Triano might come along and the race remains one of the big prizes of the year as one of only three Group 1 races exclusively run for two year old colts in Britain.
Winners of the Middle Park Stakes:
1866: The Rake
1867: Green Sleeve
1868: Pero Gomez
1870: Albert Victor
1871: Prince Charlie
1880: St Louis
1887: Friar’s Balsam
1895: St Frusquin
1896: Galtee More
1903: Pretty Polly
1914: Friar Marcus
1916: North Star
1918: Stefan the Great
1921: Golden Corn
1926: Call Boy
1928: Costaki Pasha
1929: Press Gang
1933: Medieval Knight
1936: Fair Copy
1937: Scottish Union
1941: Sun Chariot
1947: The Cobbler
1949: Masked Light
1950: Big Dipper
1951: King’s Bench
1953: Royal Challenger
1954: Our Babu
1955: Buisson Ardent
1956: Pipe of Peace
1957: Major Portion
1959: Venture VII
1964: Spanish Express
1965: Track Spare
1966: Bold Lad
1968: Right Tack
1970: Brigadier Gerard
1971: Sharpen Up
1974: Steel Heart
1975: Hittite Glory
|1991||Rodrigo de Triano|
|2016||The Last Lion|
|2017||U S Navy Flag|