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Nijinsky’s 2000 Guineas


In our latest blog by Stephen Wallis of The Paddock and The Pavilion, Stephen reviews Nijinsky’s win in the 1970 2000 Guineas with the help of Brian Jago, who rode 5th placed Joshua.

Nijinsky is regarded as one of the greatest ever thoroughbreds.  The last Triple Crown winner, the fiery bay with three white feet, matched his namesake’s virtuosity with some dazzling displays during the summer of 1970.

Nijinsky headed the British and Irish free handicaps in 1969 and had finished a five time winning two year old sequence with an easy victory in the Dewhurst Stakes.

The latter race had been the first time, Champion jockey at the time, Lester Piggott had ridden the son of Northern Dancer and he was back in the saddle for the Classic.   Trained by the Master of Ballydoyle Vincent O’Brien, Nijinsky’s first four victories had all been in Ireland where Liam Ward was contracted to ride the colt.

Meanwhile, Londoner Brian Jago first rode the 17hh Joshua during the autumn of 1969.  The colt trained by Alex Kerr in Dorking had run unplaced twice as a juvenile at Sandown and Newbury.  Joshua was owned by Geoffrey Rickman brother of the racing presenter John Rickman, who racing fans will remember used to doff his hat to ITV viewers at the start of every show.

Jago said that the colt had been quite an unmanageable two year old and Kerr had asked him if he could come along and ride him out and hopefully settle him down.

Prior to the Rowley Mile Classic Joshua had two more outings. He was third in Kempton’s 2000 Guineas trial behind Yellow God and then unplaced in a Newmarket maiden on 15 April.  “Joshua was a big baby and needed race experience,” said Jago.

Nijinsky’s won his prep race, the Gladness Stakes at the Curragh, where Ward said after his easy win that “To my way of thinking the Guineas is at his mercy”.

After his Irish win Nijinsky was available at 6/4 against but come race day on Wednesday 29 April, the Irish speedster had been backed down to 4/7 in a 14 runner field.

To illustrate his dominance, the 2nd favourite was the 13/1 shot Tamil owned by Lord Derby and ridden by Willie Carson.  The maiden Joshua was amongst the 66/1 outsiders.

Lester remarked in his book Lester’s Derbys that Nijinsky had grown into a magnificent looking horse and dominated the other runners in the parade ring.

Lester followed his trainer’s instructions to the letter, which was not to be covered up and Nijinsky moved through the field, hitting the front about two furlongs from home.   From there the favourite won comfortably two and half lengths clear of Yellow God with Roi Soleil the same distance back in third.

On the wide outside was Joshua, who finished 5th.   “Joshua ran very well; he gave an astonishing performance considering he went into the race as a maiden.  From what I could see from behind Nijinsky always looked the winner. Nijinsky was a really great horse and a fantastic looking colt. They always thought Nijinsky was a world-beater and they were right,” said Jago.

Joshua went on to be a leading sprinter and Brian Jago rode him to finish 3rd in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood later that summer.

There were greater tests to come in 1970 for Nijinsky, but a superstar colt had arrived.  Nijinsky became the first Canadian bred winner of an English Classic and the first odds on winner of the 2000 Guineas since Big Game in 1942.

The following year produced probably the best 2000 Guineas of all time with Brigadier Gerard beating Mill Reef and My Swallow, but no one could argue Nijinsky was a superlative winner in 1970.

In this year’s 2000 Guineas line up we have another odds on favourite in the Aidan O’Brien trained City Of Troy.  Like Nijinsky he is an unbeaten winner of the Dewhurst Stakes.  On Saturday we may find out if racing has another superstar colt.

As for Brian Jago, now in his 80s, he will be watching the race with interest alongside his wife Sandra on his sofa at home.