Willie Carson: Rider of the fabulous Dayjur

David Ord counts down his favourite sprinters from seven to one

David Ord's sprinting countdown comes to a conclusion with a look back at the remarkable career of the sensational Dayjur.


And so we end with the fastest horse I’ve ever had the privilege to watch. He too may have been a one-season sprinter but what a season it was.

He began his three-year-old campaign in the Free Handicap at Newmarket, finishing seventh when sent off favourite. Even the switch to sprinting that inevitably followed hardly hinted at what was to come. Victory in a conditions race at Nottingham was followed by defeat to Tod in the Hue Williams Stakes at Newbury.

Now it was time for Plan C. We were still only in May but he was having his fourth race when dropped to five furlongs in the Temple Stakes at Sandown and allowed to stride along in front.

It was to be the blueprint to greatness.

Nothing threatened to land a blow before he turned the King’s Stand Stakes into a procession despite concerns over the rain-softened ground. Nothing could get within three lengths of him at any stage of proceedings.

A setback ruled him out of the July Cup but he was back to his brilliant best when smashing the clock and American raider Mr Nickerson in the Nunthorpe.

Willie Carson returned to the winners’ enclosure pointing to his wrist. He’d felt what we all saw. Here was a sprinter of the ages.

Off he went to Haydock and the Sprint Cup – and a first Group One win over six furlongs, for all Royal Academy tried to close him down inside the distance.

Everything about the Prix de l’Abbaye looked routine. Sent off at 1/10 he treated the opposition with disdain and he was being heavily eased down when seemingly spooking at shadows across the track close home.

It mattered not at the time – but three weeks later the quirk was to cost him dear. He overcame a wide draw, the switch to a dirt surface and a bumper field of battle-hardened American gunslingers to head into the final furlong of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint with history in his sights.

He mastered Safely Kept and with the prize in the bag, at 40 miles per hour, jumped a shadow on the Belmont track. Carson kept the partnership intact but the race was lost, Safely Kept reclaiming the lead as Dayjur prepared to leap again literally in the shadows of the post.

As hard-luck stories go it was one of the most remarkable in the annals of our sport.

He might be best remembered for the drama down the stretch in that New York fall but even in defeat Dayjur was confirming himself the fastest horse in the world.

I doubt there’s ever been many faster either.

Willie Carson interview after defeat of Dayjur


An Australian sprinter or three could and many would argue should have made this list. The remarkable Black Caviar was one, the trailblazing Takeover Target another. Then there’s Choisir.

He swaggered into Royal Ascot in 2003 and left with the King’s Stand and Golden Jubilee trophies clutched to his barrel chest.

But there was a British sprinter, vanquished on the opening day of the meeting, who was to take his revenge in the Darley July Cup. John Gosden had warned Oasis Dream needed his reappearance in the King’s Stand. The Middle Park hero had been slow to come to hand through the spring, forcing connections to shelve any Classic aspirations they had.

At Ascot he briefly threatened to throw down a challenge to the trailblazing winner but Richard Hughes accepted his fate at the furlong pole. There were other days after all.

Oasis Dream’s claims to sprinting greatness rest on his next two races given his career ebbed out with a shock defeat in the Sprint Cup at Haydock, where the combination of Somnus and soft ground were his downfall, and a hard-pulling burn-out in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita.

But at Newmarket and York he was brilliant. Choisir kept him honest in the July Cup, grabbing the rail as the stalls opened and again setting fractions that had most in trouble with two furlongs to run. But this time Hughes knew he was on a race-fit and flourishing colt.

He was able to sit just off the leader and joined battle a furlong out. Choisir refused to concede for five or six strides but by the line Oasis Dream was in charge, winning by a length-and-a-half in a stellar renewal of the race.

2003 Darley July Cup

Let’s be fair the Coolmore Nunthorpe wasn’t as deep – but the winner produced a display which not only stamped him as the fastest horse in Europe – but one of the quickest ever to thunder down the straight five at the Knavesmire.

This time there was no Choisir so Hughes went to the front as the stalls opened and his partner did the rest. Had the brakes not been applied in the final 50 yards he might have broken Dayjur’s course record which stood until Battaash produced his own tour de force last year.

Oasis Dream was sensational, producing one of those days that will never fade, and unlike some on this list he’s passed on at least a chunk of his brilliance to his offspring at stud.


She wouldn’t be the best sprinter on this list – but she was one of the toughest. Lochsong ran 27 times, winning 15 of her races and being placed in five others.

Brilliantly trained by Ian Balding, she rose through the ranks in remarkable style. When she won the Paul Caddick And Macgay Sprint Trophy at York in the May of her three-year-old career, she had an official rating of 73.

She ended that campaign with a three-digit mark after rattling off a trio of big-handicaps in the shape of the Stewards’ Cup, Portland and Ayr Gold Cup.

She had a public following and after four near misses in Group company in 1993, Frankie Dettori found himself in the saddle. They clicked instantly, winning the Listed Sprint Stakes at Sandown, King George Stakes at Goodwood and the Nunthorpe at York.

1993 Nunthorpe Stakes Lochsong Includes Replay

By the end of the year she’d plundered the Abbaye in her usual uncomplicated style, from the front with Dettori crouched low and merely pointing her in the right direction.

The Cartier Top Sprinter Award was inevitable – as was the European Horse of the Year gong which followed.

She wasn’t finished yet. 1994 started with three straight wins, taking in the Palace House, Temple and King’s Stand at Royal Ascot.

She bombed out in the July Cup having been very free to post, but was back in the swing of things for another win in the King George at Goodwood.

However she’d again lost the race before the start when defending her Nunthorpe crown at York, trailing home last having thundered to post.

It seemed as though the game was up but there was to be one last hurrah – back to Paris, back to the Abbaye and back-to-back victories in France’s most prestigious sprint.

She had the race won by halfway, again underlining the fact that when on-song, and she usually was, there was nothing of her generation that could lay a hoof on her at five furlongs.

Her swansong was an ambitous and ultimately futile tilt at the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs but by then her work has done.

From humble beginnings she’d blossomed into one of the fastest and toughest sprinters of the 1990s. She was a wonderful advertisement for the blossoming talents of Dettori and the pair took us all on an unforgettable ride.


There was an awful lot to like about this filly.

Trained by John Dunlop and ridden by Willie Carson, connections understandably had Classic aspirations over the winter following her Lowther win at two. She was to fall short, finishing third in the Fred Darling at Newbury, fourth in the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket and then only ninth in the Irish equivalent run in deep ground.

She was a sprinter but as she dropped back to six furlongs for the first time, had a rival for the spotlight.

That was Soba, one of the most remarkable horses of the era. She had started life winning sellers but made both rapid and relentless progress through the ranks, winning the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood en-route to the top table.

She was a year older than Habibti and as the stalls opened in the 1983 July Cup she grabbed the far rail and adopted her customary trailblazing tactics. She could never get free, Carson stalked her through the contest before producing his partner to lead at the furlong pole and power a couple of lengths clear.

Round two came in the Nunthorpe at York where the drop back to five furlongs – and a partisan home crowd – were thought to be in the older fillies’ favour.

Habibti brushed both aside, again running in her rival’s slipstream before taking over at the furlong pole, her jockey easing her down close home.

Haydock next for the pair and back up to six for the Sprint Trophy. This time Sayf Al Erab cut out a frantic early gallop which Soba and David Nicholls consented to track. They came towards the stands’ rail as they turned in but as she went to the front, the new leader must have recognised the footsteps grabbing at the turf close by.

1983 Vernons Sprint Cup

Habibti rapidly put matters to bed inside the distance and dashed seven lengths clear of her rival for a stunning success, one of the greatest performances in the race’s illustrious history.

And so to Paris for round four in the Abbaye. Soba was again bold and brave – Habibti brilliant. This time the distance between the pair at the line was a length with the course record smashed.

She wasn’t the same filly when brought back in 1984 but had already done enough to claim her place in the sprinting hall of fame – and break the heart of a remarkable and durable rival.


If Sharpo’s longevity was part of his undoubted appeal, then the opposite is true of Stravinsky. His claims to sprinting greatness rest solely on two races, separated by only four weeks. But such was the impression he made at Newmarket and York in the summer of 1999 he had to make the list.

A one-time favourite for the 2000 Guineas despite only winning a York maiden in three starts at two, he didn’t make any Classics through the spring of his three-year-old career. It was the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot that we next saw him and a fourth place finish behind Lots Of Magic seemed to expose his limitations.

Then came the July Cup.

Thrown in against sprinters for the first time and sporting a visor, he was a revelation. It looked a wide-open Group One but was turned into an absolute procession, Stravinsky and Mick Kinane thundering through the race and sweeping four lengths clear of Bold Edge in a course record time.

1999 - Newmarket - July Cup - Stravinsky

A slightly awkward head carriage was all you could crab about the performance but his superiority was clear – as it was in the Nunthorpe. The rain-softened ground meant the record books were always going to be safe that day but he still oozed class as he cut down the front-running Sainte Marine on his one and only start at five furlongs.

The transformation was complete – but brief.

His racing career was to last only one more race, a creditable sixth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Gulfstream Park. His speed was dulled by the surface – although he was only beaten four lengths - and off he went to stud for stallion duties on both sides of the world.

He’ll be remembered for the two afternoons at Newmarket and York and it’s hard to imagine many on this list coping with his July Cup surge – even at the top of their own games.


He was one of the first to show me just how fast a racehorse can run. The York Ebor Meeting played a key role in my early exposure to the sport and for three glorious childhood summers this fellow turned up there and won the Nunthorpe.

He was brilliantly trained by Jeremy Tree and also numbered wins in the Abbaye and July Cup on his CV. But it was at York where he reigned supreme.

The domination began in 1980, under the emerging force that was Pat Eddery. He never had an anxious moment as his mount coasted to the front a furlong out, the jockey spending much of the final furlong glancing over his shoulder looking for non-existent dangers.

1980 William Hill Sprint Championship Sharpo

He was in the saddle again in 1981, when the race was billed as a match between Marwell and Moorestyle. They didn’t have a prayer as Eddery sat off a blistering early gallop before again hitting the front at the furlong pole and rapidly putting proceedings to bed.

The formbook for that summer had gone out the window – but this was Sharpo’s playground as he underlined in 1982. Steve Cauthen took over the steering and in truth that was all he had to do, his partner easing down close home after settling matters at his favourite furlong pole.

1982 William Hill Sprint Championship

He was far from infallible as a sprinter and a preference for soft ground meant opportunities to showcase his brilliance could be few and far between.

But unlike some on this list there was a longevity to his career and three times at York in August he lit up the most important sprint in my calendar. A truly wonderful horse.


Robert Armstrong had already trained one top-class sprinter prior to the emergence of Never So Bold. Moorestyle was the horse in question and he ended 1980 as the highest-rated horse in the International Classifications after winning the July Cup, Haydock Sprint Cup and Prix de l'Abbaye.

He'd sadly died of grass sickness before he could make an impact at stud but his trainer didn't have to wait long for the emergence of his next top-class speedball.

1985 was Never So Bold's year - when connections dropped him in trip and allowed him to sprint. It was in the spring of his five-year-old career, in the Temple Stakes at Sandown, when he first raced at the minimum trip. A half-length defeat of Primo Dominie hinted at the domination that was to follow.

1985 King Stand Stakes Never So Bold

Lester Piggott was in the saddle for his next start, the King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot, and he produced a performance full of class, winning by three lengths despite being eased down. It led to the legendary jockey declaring the horse would never be beaten again.

But there were the signs there too that his brilliance came at a price. Never So Bold hobbled back to the winners' enclosure at Ascot, appearing to be lame. It was a condition that lasted for an hour or so after his races.

It didn't leave a mark. On he swept to Newmarket and the July Cup and with regular rider Steve Cauthen back in the saddle he produced a stunning change of gear to draw two-and-a-half lengths clear of Committed.

1985 July Cup Never So Bold + Replay

Here was a sprinter at the very top of his game - a fact underlined at York a month later. Again he vanquished Primo Dominie in the race now known as the Coolmore Nunthorpe (was the William Hill Sprint Championship then). He sauntered through the race, put it to bed with the minimum of fuss at the furlong pole without ever being asked a serious question.

Sadly Piggott's summer prophecy was to prove wide of the mark. There was a shock defeat in his next start, the Abbaye at Lonchamp, where the usual burst of speed was missing. He finished fourth behind Committed, who barely caught a glimpse of him at Newmarket, before a speculative and bold tilt at the Breeders' Cup Mile came to nought in the Aqueduct fall.

But it's for that golden summer, taking in Ascot, Newmarket and York, that I remember Never So Bold. A brilliant sprinter, ridden by two legendary jockeys, and a brave horse who was able to forget the pain he felt afterwards to come roaring back for more.

That's why he's in my Magnificent Seven.

Send us your views

Send in your favourite sprinters and other contributions to racingfeedback@sportinglife.com while if you’ve any ideas for more topics you want covering over the coming days and weeks, please let us know.

Feedback from readers

Dave Lofthouse: I have to echo one reader with Raffingora, who was about for several years and if memory serves he won a good handicap with 10 stone 7 pounds, might of even been Ayr gold cup, some boy.

Leonard Robertson: In remembering sprinters my mind goes back to raffingora the winning machine for bill marshall but it is undoubtedly dayjur that excited me the most. The speed he displayed was awesome and I cannot forget the shock when he jumped that shadow at the breeders’ cup. Honourable mention must be made of limato whose brilliant victory in the July cup is fondly remembered

Jeff Bennett: When remembering the top sprinters it is very easy to rattle off the likes of Dayjur and Ajdal of whom were pure class and are undoubtedly at the top of this list, but i like to remember the sprinters which kept coming back for more and were the punters favourites. No better examples of this was Lochsong and Paris House but i choose to go down the handicap route for my favourite sprinters and must mention the eyecatching greys Young Inca and Grey Desire. However the horse that i remember with the greatest fondness is the machine called 'Chaplins Club'. Chaplins Club twice won 9 (yes 9) handicaps in a season which included 7 wins in a remarkable 19 day period and was most certainly a horse that captured the public's imagination.

Tony Brown: Top sprinters thankyou to Simon for highlighting borderlescott I followed him from winning as a 3yo at ripon what a journey I had also apart what Simon mentioned he also won king George stakes at glorious goodwood coral sprint at York and city wall stakes at Chester they will never be another one like him he was a one off apart from this boy I must say the best sprinter in my time must be sole power

Andrew Pelis: Loved that reprise of Never So Bold, it was painful to watch him limp in after his races, but an immense talent.

My top 7 would be:

Green Desert: Just absolute class. Second in a Guineas he patently didn't stay a mile and won a July Cup extraordinarily low of numbers but oozing quality.

Ajdal: A horse of the highest quality to look at and a champion juvenile on the track. The Guineas mile and the Derby proved beyond him but he was brilliant over shorter.

Habibti: Like the above two, she emerged from the Classics having just come up short over a mile. The July Cup heralded the beginning of her reign and she never threatened to lose again at three. Not quite so good the following year, her King's Stand Stakes victory was still extraordinary as she gave her main rivals several lengths and raced alone to the stands side and still got up.

Sheikh Albadou: One of the finest testaments to the late Alex Scott, this lad came through the handicap ranks and got better as his three year-old year progressed, beating the juvenile Paris House in the Nunthorpe and then achieving the virtually impossible, by beating the best American dirt sprinters in their own backyard. His achievement was overshadowed by Arazi's win at the Breeders' Cup, but it remains one of the finest British performances at that meeting.

Cadeaux Genereux: A top class horse who was trained by two outstanding young trainers who both tragically lost their lives young. He started out in the care of Frenchman Olivier Douieb, who had established himself quickly as a top trainer in Newmarket. He began his three year-old campaign a maiden, but quickly climbed the ladder, with big handicap successes and a defeat of Salse in the Criterion Stakes over seven furlongs. Cadeaux Genereux later won the Diadem Stakes at Ascot, before finishing first past the post and being unluckily disqualified in the Prix de l'Abbaye. Sadly illness saw Douieb return to France the following year and Alex Scott took over his training. After a couple of disappointing runs, Cadeaux Genereux was brilliant in landing the July Cup in course record time. He duly added the Nunthorpe Stakes in August, but instead of seeking recompense in the Prix de l'Abbaye, he ended his career running third in the Prix de la Foret. He proved a Group winner from five to seven furlongs.

Sharpo: A quality horse who got better with age, finding greater consistency the longer he raced. His late burst of speed was beautifully executed in the 1982 July Cup and he underlined his class in that year's Prix de l'Abbaye. But it was at York where he dominated, winning what is now the Nunthorpe Stakes on three consecutive occasions. Nothing has come near to that since and when you look at the horses he beat, Sharpo was a bit special.

Dayjur: Nashwan signalled the return to form of Major Dick Hern's stable and Dayjur was sensational the following year, having not quite cut it at seven furlongs. He blitzed his rivals in the Temple Stakes and then again at Royal Ascot. But it was his win in the Nunthorpe which was staggering as he demolished his rivals from start to finish, storming home by four lengths in record time. After adding the Haydock Sprint Cup from Royal Academy, Dayjur completed the European clean sweep, with victory in the Prix de l'Abbaye. He was untouchable. His Breeders' Cup Sprint was a win too, in all but name. He had mastered his American rivals - on the dirt, before jumping a shadow near the line and losing vital momentum and his lead.

Simon from Newark: BORDERLESCOTT raced no fewer than 85 times, his wins including two Nunthorpe Stakes, a Stewards Cup and a Beverley Bullet. He was ample proof that a small stable, like the Bastimans, can work wonders with the right material. He always tried his hardest and had many near misses, including a short head defeat in his bid for a second Stewards Cup. He won over three-quarters of a million in prize money; 'not bad for a 13000 guinea yearling,' quipped his trainer and part-owner Robin Bastiman.

Tim Williams: Can anybody remember Granville Greta trained by Ernie Davey. My dad used to back it religiously. Great sprinters aren't always champions, as he would be able to explain. Habibti and Cawstons Pride were two of mine, although the latter never really trained on. Marwell as well. I sometimes think it's not the class of the horse that makes them memorable but the time during which they ran. The early seventies were golden years.

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