Sporting Bygones: How the International has made indelible mark

IN THE beginning, back in 1972, we thought it was all about Brigadier Gerard as The Queen and an impressive number of her subjects made their way to the Knavesmire for the first running of what was then called the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup.

The Brigadier was a 1-3 favourite to equal the majestic Ribot's record of 16 consecutive victories and the new race at York, the brainchild of clerk of the course Major Leslie Petch, was seen as the perfect stage for such glory, the four-year-old having proved himself at distances ranging from the five furlongs of his debut in 1971 to the mile-and-a-half of the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes a few weeks before the York feature.

On the day, the bookmakers were triumphant as the three-year-old Derby winner Roberto, trained by Vincent O'Brien and ridden by the American Braulio Baeza, who was racing for the first time in Europe, made all the running and, in shattering the course record, beat Brigadier Gerard by three lengths. We were stunned into silence.

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It was to be the noble bay's only defeat; he won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (in record time) and the Champion Stakes before retiring at the end of his four-year-old season with a record of 17 wins from 18 starts.

He had been beaten only on the day when a great race was born and over the years we have seen history made as the brilliant French mare Dahlia, in the hands of Lester Piggott, took the honours in consecutive years (1974-5), a feat matched by Ezzoud (1993-4, Walter Swinburn) and Halling (1995-6, Swinburn and Frankie Dettori). Great days.

But memories of the Juddmonte International are not all sepia tinted; some are in vivid colour and proved the high-spot of several recent seasons.

There have been other magnificent winners of York's biggest race in the past decade with names like Sulamani, Falbrav, Nayef and Sakhee on the honours board and jockeys including Darryl Holland, Richard Hills and Gary Stevens savouring their moment of triumph as they were led into the winner's enclosure.

We are looking ahead to another memorable chapter in the story of the International but we will be fortunate indeed if the climax matches those of 2005, in which the Italian horse Electrocutionist,

brilliantly ridden by Mick Kinane, just managed to beat off the challenge of the Japanese raider Zenno Rob Roy after a battle which left even the most experienced of race-watchers gasping for breath, or last year's unforgettable renewal.

Sea The Stars might just be one of the best winners in the history of race and proved his status as the highest-rated horse in the world last August when, with the unflappable Kinane in the saddle, he came back from apparently certain defeat to overhaul Mastercraftsman with a wonderful display of acceleration and courage.

Kinane was also the winning rider when Giant's Causeway, the 'Iron Horse' from Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle yard won as a three-year-old in 2005, a feat equalled by Derby winner Authorized and Frankie Dettori in 2007 and, of course, Sea The Stars last year.

Dettori's father Gianfranco also managed an International success on a three-year-old – Wollow in 1976 – and other winners from that age group include Troy (1979 under Willie Carson), Master Willie (1980 with Philip Waldron in the saddle) and In The Groove (1990 for Steve Cauthen).

A new chapter in one of racing's major success stories will be written on the Knavesmire tomorrow; for many of us the excitement has been building all year and we will once again remember Leslie Petch, whose idea has grown into such a landmark of the Yorkshire sporting year.