Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large
Formula One 2014: Complete schedule, standings, driver info
AD200910530464389AR
AD200910530464389AR
AD200910530464389AR

The King of flat racing

The Triple Crown, Nijinsky won in 1970, puts the thoroughbred in a class of his own.

Who do you think is sport's all-time best? Each week, we will profile a candidate, inviting you to decide who should top our list of 50. All participants will be entered into a draw for the weekly adidas prize and an end-of-contest Etihad Holidays four-day trip for two, including business class flights and accommodation, to a mystery location. We will reveal the full 50 at the end, but this week Geoffrey Riddle looks at the horse Nijinsky II.

Greatness comes in so many forms. There are few, however, who hold a place in the pantheon of sporting achievement that can display so many aspects of it as Nijinsky did. The imposing bay had a nervous temperament that blended dramatically with raw ability. In 1970, Nijinsky completed the British Triple Crown, winning the 2,000 Guineas over a mile at Newmarket, the Derby over a mile and a half at Epsom and the St Leger over an extended 14 furlongs at Doncaster. It was a triumph that no horse had managed for 35 years, and is something which has eluded every other thoroughbred to follow in Nijinsky's hoofprints.

To win over three different distances on three idiosyncratic courses highlights what a unique animal Nijinsky was. To put it in to perspective, Michael Johnson, one of the greatest track and field athletes of all time, excelled only at two distances, 200m and 400m. Olympic running tracks do not differ in camber or gradient either. Greatness was also something that Nijinsky was born into, and was surround by. His story is no rag to riches tale like Seabiscuit's.

Nijinsky was sired by Northern Dancer, the most successful stallion of the 20th century. Named after Vaslav, the most gifted dancer of his generation, Nijinsky also had distinct markings that set him aside from the rest - three white socks. But an acorn needs to be nurtured if it is to become a mighty oak, and Nijinsky's path to prominence was mapped out when he was sent to Ireland to be trained by Vincent O'Brien at Ballydoyle. O'Brien was the master trainer of his age, so much so that in 2003, readers of the Racing Post newspaper voted him the greatest figure in racing history.

Given such handling, and the fact that Nijinsky was paired with Lester Piggott, the finest jockey of his day, it was no surprise that the pair started as the odds-on favourite for the Railway Stakes - their first assignment. It was a facile victory, and one which acted as a springboard to further success. Nijinsky finished 1969 as champion two-year-old. After a winter of strengthening up, Nijinsky was unleashed, and promptly won the Gladness Stakes and the 2,000 Guineas with ease. Not even a bout of colic 24 hours before the Derby could stop him.

Where Nijinsky really proved himself, though, was in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. Prior to that contest he had only pitted his courage, stamina and speed against horses of his own age group. Although just five horses lined up against the rising superstar, it was a field boasting two Derby winners, a Washington International winner and the holders of the Coronation Cup and French Oaks. Nijinksy left them trailing in his wake in a display of brilliance that saw Piggott ease up half a furlong from the line.

That performance confirmed him as a colt of the highest order, but his ability was never to exude such finesse again. Although he won the St Leger after suffering ringworm, it was on his next start in France, in the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe, where he showed what an exceptional competitor he could be in defeat. He gave the French Derby winner, Sassafras, around 10 lengths but made up around six lengths in a single furlong and went into the final 100 metres neck and neck.

For a moment it looked like Piggott had done it, but the French stayer nodded them on the line. Nijinsky was an extraordinary racehorse, winning 11 of his 13 starts, but what sets aside the great is the legacy that they leave behind. As a stallion, Nijinsky sired 155 Group winners before his death in 1992. A perfect illustration of Nijinsky's value came in 1985 when Seattle Dancer, a progeny of Nijinsky, sold at public auction for a record $US13.1million (Dh47.7m).

It was a record price that was to stand for 22 years. Nijinsky's greatness will last much longer. griddle@thenational.ae Cast your vote and enter a draw for a weekly Dh500 adidas voucher and a dream trip with Etihad Holidays. If you think Nijinsky is the all-time best, text G44 to 2337. Texts cost Dh5 and voting will end at midnight on Thursday May 15.

Back to the top

More articles


Editor's Picks

 Glenn Maxwell's knock that followed ensured Brendon McCullum's knock went in vain after his explosive half-century took Chennai Super Kings past the 200-mark. Ravindranath K / The National

All is well with Punjab as Maxwell and Miller seal win against Chennai

The Australian missed out on a century but his 95 runs, along with Miller's unbeaten half-century, ensured Kings XI scaled a mighty peak of a target in a hot first game of Abu Dhabi's double-header.

 Sunderland manager Gus Poyet protests during the Premier League match against Crystal Palace at The Stadium of Light in Sunderland, northeast England, on March 15, 2014. Ian MacNicol / AFP

Sunderland going out of Premier League with a grumble

Northeast club have underwhelmed during seven-year stay in the top flight

 Hamburg players leave the field after the match against Borussia Moenchengladbach on March 30, 2014. AFP

Hamburg the dinosaur’s time may be up in Bundesliga

Ever-present for 51 years in the German top-flight, Hamburg face the prospect of relegation, writes Ian Hawkey.

 At 105 kg, Gabrielle Garcia has dominated the world circuit and loves many things about being in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National

Garcia seeks fresh challenge in MMA after her jiu-jitsu domination

Brazilian prides being a lioness in the sport but feels she can shed 25kg weight to pursue her MMA debut aspirations.

 England's Jonathan Trott hits out during the ICC Champions Trophy semi final match against South Africa at The Oval cricket ground, London June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Philip Brown

England’s Jonathan Trott sidelined with stress-related illness again

Jonathan Trott is to take a second break from professional cricket because of his stress-related illness as England and Wales Cricket Board and Warwickshire confirmed he will stop playing with immediate effect.

 Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho looks on during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at the Liberty Stadium on April 13, 2014 in Swansea, Wales. Chris Brunskill/Getty Images

‘That’s why we are a top club’ says Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech

Jose Mourinho’s men will temporarily claim the Premier League top spot if they beat Sunderland, leaving them in control of their own destiny in the title race ahead of a crucial trip to face Liverpool at Anfield on April 27.

Events

To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National