Throughout his illustrious training career, Sir Henry Cecil nurtured the careers of countless great fillies and mares.
One In A Million, Fairy Footsteps, Oh So Sharp, Diminuendo, Snow Bride, All At Sea, Bosra Sham, Lady Carla, Sleepytime, Reams Of Verse, Ramruna, Love Divine, Light Shift, Timepiece and Midday all spring to mind.
Add to that list the unmistakeable and brilliant in equal measure Indian Skimmer.
The filly was born in 1984 and was sired by former Champion Two Year Old Storm Bird.
She was a rare grey runner in the Sheikh Mohammed silks – and her distinctive white face made her stand out from the crowd.
After a low key start to life as a two year old, which yielded a fourth-placed finish on her only start, Indian Skimmer would grace the racecourse at the highest level, from the spring and early summer of 1987, through to mid-summer in 1989.
She certainly did that from her second racecourse start, a minor Wolverhampton contest in April 1987. A ten-length victory got Indian Skimmer off the mark in what would prove an excellent week for Cecil, who would win the Nell Gwynn Stakes at Newmarket the following day, with Martha Stevens.
Indian Skimmer was stepped up in class for her next race in the renowned Oaks Trial, the Pretty Polly Stakes at Newmarket.
Up against Indian that afternoon, was the smart juvenile Shining Water, the unexposed future Sun Chariot Stakes winner Blessed Event and the unbeaten Percy’s Lass.
None of them saw which way Indian Skimmer went as she took her field apart, blasting Percy’s Lass by four lengths, in a manner that heralded the arrival of a star.
It was a brilliant victory, yet eclipsed on the afternoon, by the devastating turn of foot shown by Miesque, in winning the 1,000 Guineas.
We didn’t know it at the time, but the two superstar fillies were on a collision course.
Cecil targeted another Oaks Trial for Indian Skimmer’s next race and she only faced two rivals in York’s Musidora Stakes, easily accounting for Bourbon Girl.
Instead of heading to Epsom for the Oaks, Indian Skimmer was seen out just twelve days after her York romp, adding the Prix Saint-Alary at Longchamp, to complete a four-timer in just over a month.
The filly was improving fast and Cecil opted to return to France in June, for the Prix de Diane (French Oaks).
Having been successful with her quartet of eye-catching, wide-margin victories, Indian Skimmer was facing the daunting prospect of taking on the undisputed Queen of her generation to that point, Miesque.
Laluche, another very useful Cecil filly, who was unbeaten in three races, was used as a mere pacemaker, setting a furious gallop.
Indian Skimmer and Steve Cauthen took over with a quarter of a mile to race and the filly lengthened in that unerring style, drawing away from the labouring Miesque, who could make no impression.
It was a scintillating victory over one of the great French fillies in history and marked Indian Skimmer down as something very special.
However, injury prevented Indian Skimmer from making further inroads in her bid to be racehorse of 1987, as her stable companion Reference Point earned the highest accolades in a memorable Championship season for Henry Cecil.
At a time when top three year olds were regularly whisked off straight to stud, the racing world was delighted to see Mtoto, Triptych and Indian Skimmer all remain in training in 1988.
All three would clash in the Eclipse Stakes later that summer, but it was the autumn, where the big grey filly proved at the peak of her powers.
But 1988 did not start on a high note, as Indian Skimmer was a rusty third to Highland Chieftain in Sandown Park’s Brigadier Gerard Stakes at the end of May.
She returned to Esher just over a month later for a magnificent clash with the two older horses, in a vintage Eclipse Stakes.
But on the day, Indian Skimmer had to give best to Mtoto and Michael Roberts, who landed the big prize for the second successive season, beating Shady Heights and Triptych, as Indian Skimmer disappointed in fourth.
To that point, there were plenty willing to argue that Indian Skimmer had not returned to her best and that injury had perhaps thwarted the progress of a filly seemingly once heading to the stars.
After a break, Indian Skimmer was back in action in the Juddmonte International Stakes, where controversy played out.
The three year-old colt Persian Heights won the race, but in doing so, hampered Indian Skimmer and was thrown out.
Having lost ground, Indian Skimmer stayed on well to finish a neck third to Shady Heights, who was promoted to first, with the filly placed second.
If there was an element of bad luck in Indian Skimmer’s York run, fate would have no place to play in her next performance in Ireland.
In the mid to late-Eighties, British-trained horses dominated the Irish Champion Stakes at Phoenix Park in Dublin.
Persian Heights and Shady Heights were both back in opposition and so too was Triptych. But they faced a different Indian Skimmer this time.
Steve Cauthen had suffered an horrific fall at Goodwood just days earlier and had broken a bone in his neck. Michael Roberts, eleven times Champion Jockey of South Africa, got the nod to ride Henry Cecil’s choice string of Sheikh Mohammed owned horses, including Indian Skimmer.
Sitting just off the pace, Roberts tracked Shady Heights into the home straight and got to work with his distinctive pushing style, with three furlongs to race.
The filly picked up and hit the front inside the two furlong marker and whilst Shady Heights never yielded and Triptych finished strongly, Indian Skimmer was always in control and never looked like losing. She passed the post ¾ of a length clear of Shady Heights, to record her first victory of the campaign.
A month later, Indian Skimmer was a comfortable two length winner of the Sun Chariot Stakes, beating the smart Luca Cumani filly Infamy at a Newmarket basking in glorious autumn sunshine.
Conditions on the Rowley Mile were vastly different a fortnight later, as thick fog engulfed the Home of Racing ahead of the Champion Stakes.
Indian Skimmer faced a small but select field, comprising of 2,000 Guineas winner Doyoun, old rivals Persian Heights and Shady Heights and the enigmatic Percy’s Lass, who had by this stage developed a trait for refusing to leave the stalls at the start.
Sure enough, although unbeknownst to those in the stands, Percy’s Lass gave away many lengths at the start and compromised all chances. The Geoff Wragg filly was a brilliant racehorse at her best and went on to produce future Derby winner Sir Percy, tragically passing away in the process.
But on that Newmarket afternoon, shrouded in fog, the grey wonder with that unmistakeable white face, emerged from the gloom in isolation.
Roberts just kept the filly up to her work as she slammed Persian Heights by four lengths, looking for the world the champion she had promised to be in the first half of 1987.
It was a victory that earned Indian Skimmer the opportunity to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in November – a trip Cecil had rarely ever made with runners.
Indian Skimmer ran a cracking race in a contest over an unsuitable 1 ½ miles, finishing 1 ¼ lengths third to Great Communicator in a pulsating race.
Then came the news that Indian Skimmer would be back at the age of five, in 1989.
The mare returned to action on soft ground in late April, winning the Gordon Richards Stakes at Sandown Park by just a head from Per Quod.
Once again, it was felt that she had needed the run.
A month later she added the Prix d’Ispahan at Longchamp when beating Gabina by ½ a length.
All roads then led to a second attempt at the Coral Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park – and a very special renewal.
Throughout much of the Eighties, there had been many frustrations when the top horses often seemed to avoid one another.
That could not be said of the 1989 Coral Eclipse Stakes, as the 2,000 Guineas and Derby winner Nashwan, took on the Champion Miler Warning and Indian Skimmer in a titanic race.
Cecil fielded a relatively unknown horse called Opening Verse, who appeared to be a pacemaker for Indian Skimmer.
However, well into the home straight, with Indian Skimmer and Warning floundering, Opening Verse was still several lengths clear of Nashwan, as Willie Carson got that colt’s great stride into full flow.
Nashwan got there of course and Opening Verse turned out to be a future Breeders’ Cup winner! Indian Skimmer finished five lengths third to Nashwan on what proved to be her final racecourse appearance.
She failed to make her mark at stud but is fondly remembered for those two brilliant victories in the Prix de Diane and the Champion Stakes.
Many will make the case that Indian Skimmer was Cecil’s greatest filly. It is open to debate but she had charisma and a powerful engine at her finest.
The list of horses who finished behind her, bear full testament to her talent as one of the greats.