One of the greatest Flat horses of all time, though having had an admittedly short career, was the inimitable Dancing Brave.
An American bred colt, Dancing Brave was trained in England and raced between autumn 1985 and autumn 1986, winning eight of his 10 races in that time.
During this three-year-old season in ’86, he won the 2000 Guineas over a mile and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe over 1½ miles, also taking in and winning the Eclipse at the intermediate distance as well as other races in between.
Dancing Brave was classified as the top-rated European horse of 1986, as well as being named British Horse of the Year. He entered the British Champions Series Hall of Fame in 2022.
Dancing Brave’s Pedigree
Foaled on May 11th, 1983, Dancing Brave was a bay colt with three white feet. He was bred in Kentucky at the Glen Oak Farm and while his pedigree was excellent, he at first wasn’t thought of as a classically good-looking thoroughbred.
He did grow into a beautiful sort by Lyphard out of Navajo Princess, a fine race mare. Lyhard was by Northern Dancer whose impact on the sport has been seismic over the decades.
|Sire/Dam||Grand Sire/Dam||Great Grand Sire/Dam|
|Navajo Princess||Drone||Sir Gaylord|
|Cap And Bells|
Having been bred at Glen Oak Farm Dancing Brave was spotted and purchased by James Delahooke for prominent owner/breeder Khalid Abdullah. A huge sum of $200,000 was paid.
Prince Khalid’s Juddmonte operation then sent the colt to be trained by Guy Harwood in England, the successful handler being seen as the perfect choice to take care of what was a very promising young horse.
Part of Guy Harwood’s well-known modern approach to training was to not race horses until they are officially 27 months old. As a May foal therefore, Dancing Brave was never going to hit the track too early.
Dancing Brave eventually hit the track in the Dorking Stakes over a mile at Sandown in the autumn of 1985 with his reputation leading to him going off at odds-on against three others. He won his debut race with no fuss by three lengths.
It was well known at the time that gallop watchers at Newmarket were saying that Dancing Brave was actually working better than Harwood’s Futurity winner Bakharoff. This led to him again being backed off the boards for his next start in the Soham House Stakes.
Another win duly arrived and, though he wasn’t pushed into a Group race that year, Dancing Brave went into the winter as the ante-post favourite for the 1986 2000 Guineas.
With a prep obviously needed before the Guineas, Dancing Brave took in the Craven Stakes over the Classic course and distance in April. He won that race, his price hardening for the 2000 Guineas as the excitement built.
Two weeks later, he took in only his fourth career race in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, going off 15/8 market leader with 14 in opposition.
With Greville Starkey up top, the colt had to cope with a muddling pace off which he was able to quicken impressively close home to land the Classic by an impressive three lengths from Green Desert, himself an excellent colt.
After Dancing Brave stretched clear up the hill at Newmarket it was felt by many, including the jockey, that he would stay middle-distances no problem and that the Derby should be a target for him in June.
Going Up in Trip
With his ability to stay in doubt, Dancing Brave was eventually committed to the Derby in which he started favourite.
Much to the chagrin of many race watcher to this day, Starkey seemed overly cautious with his hold-up ride with Dancing Brave still close to last rounding Tattenham Corner and entering the Epsom straight.
After being switched to the outer, the colt showed that supreme turn of foot once more indeed clocking just over 10 second for his penultimate furlong.
Given too much to do, Dancing Brave just failed to mow down Shahrastani with Greville Starket roundly criticised afterwards. Despite this, Guy Hardwood defended the jockey and the performance.
Starkey was allowed to keep the ride as the horse went down to ten furlongs in the Eclipse at Sandown Park, meeting the older horses for the first time. Up against Triptych and Teleprompter, Dancing Brave marched all over them and win ever so impressively by four lengths.
Allowed to go back up to twelve furlongs, Dancing Brave next took in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot. This time, Starkey was unavailable leaving Pat Eddery to take over.
Since Epsom, fellow three-year-old Shahrastani had gone to the Irish Derby and won it by eight lengths, making this rematch over a mile and a half a major horse racing moment. Indeed, the Derby winner went off favourite.
Asked for an effort much earlier than usual by Pat Eddery, Dancing Brave took off up the home straight and was simply ridden out to defeat Shardari by just under a length with old rivals Triptych and Shahrastani third and fourth.
After a short break to freshen him up, Dancing brave took in a prep for the Arc with a spin in the Select Stakes at Goodwood in September. There, he stayed just off the pace before clearing away to win the race by a yawning ten lengths.
On a planned final race in Europe, Dancing Brave experienced travelling abroad for the first time as he was sent to Paris to contest the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
As usual, there was a high-class field that included some of his rivals from the summer alongside the home side’s best, the unbeaten Bering, and the German champ Acatenango.
Pat Eddery held Dancing Brave up early on before moving out wide in the straight in order for him to make a challenge.
In a move reminiscent of the Derby but certainly more successful, Dancing Brave was around 11th with only a furlong to run before he began to motor, grabbing the lead with only 50 yards or so to race, beating Bering by a length. The time of 2 minutes, 27.7 seconds was a record for the race.
Before retiring, Dancing Brave was sent to the States to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita in California. Unfortunately, he could finish only fourth as it transpired that he was injured during the race having been struck in the eye by a turf clod. That was to prove to be his final race before heading off to stud.
Dancing Brave’s biggest wins:
|1986||Craven Stakes, Newmarket|
|1986||2000 Guineas, Newmarket|
|1986||Eclipse Stakes, Sandown|
|1986||King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Ascot|
|1986||Select Stakes, Goodwood|
|1986||Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Longchamp|
When the racehorse handicappers met at the end of 1986 to determine the official International Classifications, Dancing Brave was given a mark of 141. At that point, it was the highest rating to have ever been given to a racehorse on the Flat.
Using more modern techniques, older ratings were recalibrated in 2013 which led to Dancing Brave being revised to 138, still extremely impressive but now behind Frankel who raced in the same colours and who was handed a mark of 140.
Dancing Brave was voted as the British Horse of the Year for 1986, collecting all of the Racegoers’ Club votes and becoming the first unanimous choice since Brigadier Gerard in 1971.
In modern times, Racing Post readers voted Dancing Brave’s win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as the best ever horse race, and in 2022, he was inducted into the British Champions Series Hall of Fame.
Dancing Brave’s Stud Career
After racing, Dancing Brave was sent to stud. He was syndicated, his estimated value being £14 million.
He stood at Newmarket’s Dalham Hall Stud, initially for a huge £120,000 in 1987. Unfortunately, not all was going well for him as a stallion.
Having produced a limited stock, he was diagnosed with Marie’s disease in November and he had fertility problems recorded in 1988.
Later, in 1991, Dancing Brave was exported to Japan where he took up stallion duties in Hokkaido at the Shizunai Stallion Station.
He did manage to produce a number of winners at stud, with his three-year-olds in 1993 being his most prominent crop. Foaled just before he went to Japan, his 1993 crop of Classic contenders included Commander In Chief he went on to win the Derby.
To great sadness, Dancing Brave suffered a fatal heart attack on August 2nd, 1999. He left a massive legacy and a huge impression on the sport of horse racing with many still regarding him as the best of all time, despite being officially rated 2lbs inferior to Frankel.
Despite not being tested at Group level as a juvenile and retiring at the end of his three-year-old season, Dancing Brave managed to bring in win and place prize money of over $1,776,000.
Converted and adjusted for inflation, that equates to around £4 million by the end of 2022, an impressive figure.
His prize money levels were boosted by his ability, despite his inexperience, to go for the Derby, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup Turf, three of the most valuable races on the circuit.
Had he raced on at four and given his versatility, he would most likely have been the pound-for-pound highest-earning horse ever.
Dancing Brave was bred by the Glen Oak Farm in Kentucky.
He was purchased from there for Khalid Abdullah, owner of Juddmonte.
Those colours are still very prominent today and have been worn by Dancing Brave, Frankel, Arrogate, Enable, Kingman, Zafonic, Dansili, Oasis Dream and plenty more superstars besides.
Dancing Brave was trained throughout his short career by Guy Harwood in West Sussex.
This horse’s 2000 Guineas was Hardwood’s second, while his Arc win was the trainer’s only one.
Greville Starkey initially rode Dancing Brave on the track, but after injury ruled him out and Pat Eddery took over, Eddery remained his regular jockey until the end of the season in 1986.