Good Show, Roberto
by Peter Towers-Clark
the Thoroughbred Record
August 26, 1972
When Paul Mellon's Mill Reef had to pull out of the Eclipse because of virus infection, it was hoped that the last chance of him meeting up with John and Jean Hislop's Brigadier Gerard would come in the first running of the 40,000-added (English pounds) Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at the big York August Meeting. But it was not to be, for a loose shoe caused a minor leg injury and trainer Ian Balding had to announce that Mill Reef would be an absentee and probably have one more race, in the Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot, before trying to repeat in the Prix de l'Arc.
Following his King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes victory, Brigadier Gerard was announced as a Benson and Hedges runner subject to the usual proviso of good ground. From then on the members of the York Race Committee were seen incessantly scanning the weather barometers and this was one year when nobody thought of watering the track. All went well and for the start of the meeting on August 15, on which the Gold Cup was run, the going was perfect. For just 24 hours it was believed Pistol Packer, second to Mill Reef in the 1971 Prix d'Harcourt, might come over, but she too was then announced a non-runner.
So this left virtually only Roberto, John Galbreath's Derby winner by a nose when Lestor Piggott had been a last minute switch for Bill Williamson, and his runner-up Rheingold as serious rivals to Brigadier Gerard. Once again, Piggott was involved in mount switching.
For reasons that trainer Vincent O'Brien still cannot explain, Roberto had been a complete flop in the Irish Sweeps Derby whereas Rheingold, with Yves Saint-Martin put up to replace Ernie Johnson, had beaten older French horses in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud. Then, just on a week before the race, Rheingold's connections announced that Piggott would replace Johnson in the Benson and Hedges rather than ride Roberto. When he heard, O'Brien offered Williamson the mount but the Austrailan was already committed to ride at Brussels.
I got onto Mr. Galbreath by telephone," said Mr. O'Brien, "and he said that he did not want to alter my plans but would I consider him flying Braulio Baeza over, so I agreed." Baeza arrived in England on Sunday night, rode Roberto out for the first time at exercise on the morning of the race, and in hot sunshine before an enormous crowd went out to ride his first race in England. With a straight sequence of 15 wins, this was to be the one that would bring Brigadier Gerard up to Ribot's unbeaten 16 victories and the one that racing fans, who had blocked every road into York solid for hours, would remember to tell their grandchildren about. The son of Queen's Hussar and La Paive went off as the 1-3 favorite.
The betting between the other two, it must be admitted, just did not make sense, but the fact of Piggott's switch to Rheingold and the booking of an American jockey for Roberto was too much for most of the conservative English crowd to take. So, whereas Rheingold (Faberge II-Athene) was offered at only 7-to-2, the son of Hail to Reason and Bramalea, who had beaten him at Epsom, was offered at 12-to1. The staunce little Gold Rod, always thereabouts in our big races, who had run Brigadier Gerard to a length on the very soft ground that he hates in the Eclipse but who on normal ground usually finishes around six to ten lengths off, and Mill Reef's lead horse Bright Beam made up the rest of the field that went out to contest the 30,955 (English pounds) prize.
Anybody who had reservations about Baeza's ability to handle an English track for the first time of asking as the gated opened had changed his tune 2 minutes and 7.1 seconds later, when the Panamanian drove Roberto through to a new track record and kept Ribot's record intact. Asking afterwards if he had been worried to see Baeza take Roberto straight to the front, O'Brien told us that he had not. "I told him about the horses and the track, and left it to him."
Presumably just as he does on most of the good horses he rides in the States, Baeza set Roberto alight right from the start. After a furlong Bright Beam came up alongside him and the two raced a length ahead of Brigadier Gerard and Rheingold, with Gold Rod last, until they turned into the straight, 4 1/2 furlongs from home, where Bright Beam ran wide out and out of contention. Joe Mercer then began to close up, but Rheingold was a hopeless flop, dropping right out and raising not the slightest hope of being concerned in the finish.
But fully two furlongs from home there could be no doubt that Brigadier Gerard was in for his first defeat. Probably he got up to a little over a length but Mercer had drawn his whip and it was apparent that there was absolutely nothing more to come. Over the final furlong, as Baeza with majestic rhythm drove his colt on towards the line, Roberto went away again. Just before the post Mercer accepted defeat and the verdict was three lengths. It was another ten lengths back to Gold Rod, making it apparent that Brigadier Gerard had run fairly closely to his proper form.
It is always sad to see a good horse beaten, especially one that has gone 15 races, but there could be not the slightest doubt that the best horse had won. And the clock showed just how fine his performance had been. Brigadier Gerard probably would not have beaten him at a mile either, as the race was run. In concluding this account of the highlight of three great days, I can only say that, like thousands of others at York, I was markedly struck by the professional brilliance of Baeza's jockeyship, and can well see now why he enjoys the reputation that he does at home--and why Mr. Galbreath thought it worthwhile to fly him across the Atlantic for just this one race. Gulping back an orange squash and offering the sole comment, "I had plenty of horse left," he then sped away from York to ride next day at Saratoga.
As for the future, plans are much in the air. Brigadier Gerard could go for the Champion Stakes, though it would not surprise me if they now called it a day. Roberto is not in the St. Leger but has been enterd for the Prix de l'Arc, but as of now Mr. O'Brien has no definite plans for him.
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