One of the greatest ever, Mill Reef was an American-bred colt who raced at two, three and four in Britain.
He won 12 of his fourteen races, finishing runner-up in the others, and was the top juvenile of 1970.
Mill Reef went on to great things as a three-year-old, winning the Derby, the Eclipse, the King George and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
His career at four was only ended by injury before he went to stud.
Mill Reef’s Pedigree
Mill Reef was foaled on February 23rd, 1968. A bay colt, he was bred in the USA by Paul Mellon at Rokeby Stables in Virginia.
By Never Bend out of Milan Mill, the colt was always considered a looker and as a yearling it was decided that, due to his action, he’d be better suited by turf in Europe rather than racing in America.
He was named after the Mill Reef Club by Mellon, a club located on Antigua, where Mellon and his family owned a home since its foundation in 1947.
|Sire/Dam||Grand Sire/Dam||Great Grand Sire/Dam|
|Milan Mill||Princequillo||Prince Rose|
|Virginia Water||Count Fleet|
This was considered a good pedigree at the time and plenty was expected of Mill Reef from the outset, though connections perhaps didn’t know quite how good their horse would become.
Mill Reef’s Stud Career
After retiring due to injury, Mill Reef was sent for stallion duties beginning in 1973 when he was five years old.
At stud he was responsible for 120+ rated horses Creator, a double Group 1 winner in France, Ibn Bey who won the Irish St Leger, and Doyoun who won a 2000 Guineas and was very successful as a stallion himself.
Mill Reef was the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland in 1978 and 1987.
Unfortunately, Mill Reef needed to be euthanised on February 2nd, 1986. He is now buried at the National Stud where he has a statue in place in his memory.
Mill Reef made his debut in May of 1970 at Salisbury. He managed to beat a 2/9 shot in that race by four lengths, announcing himself on the scene.
From there he was sent straight to Royal Ascot in June. Sticking to sprinting early on, he ran in the Coventry Stakes which he won by an impressive six lengths.
His team decided he should go for the Prix Robert Papin in France, but he suffered a bad journey and was beaten by My Swallow. This probably allowed My Swallow to finish the year rated 1lb higher than Mill Reef, though many consider the British-trained runner to have been the better two-year-old overall.
Sticking to six furlongs, Mill Reef went for the Gimcrack Stakes at York in August. Despite the ground having turned very soft, it was thought he would handle that OK and so was eventually allowed to run. He won that race by a yawning ten lengths from a horse who went on to be the champion sprinter of 1971.
Keeping busy, Mill Reef took in and won the Imperial Stakes at Kempton before being aimed at the Dewhurst Stakes, victory in which would make him the undisputed champion juvenile. He won the seven-furlong flagship event at Newmarket by four lengths.
Classic Season and Beyond
In 1971, Mill Reef began his three-year-old season by going for the Greenham Stakes. He won that and went for Classic glory in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
In the colts’ classic he was ultimately beaten into second by the equally brilliant Brigadier Gerard. That horse was considered one of the greatest milers ever, meaning the form with hindsight was superb, while My Swallow was back in third in what was a vintage renewal of the race.
Despite winning a Coventry and a Gimcrack, Mill Reef’s team decided to step him up to middle distances after his Guineas second.
That proved to be an inspired move. Mill Reef won the Derby at Epsom by a couple of lengths, before going back to ten furlongs for the Eclipse in early July. He also won that race and impressively so, scooting four lengths clear of top-class French runner Caro.
After three very hard races at the top level, he went to the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at the end of the month. Despite that, he was even more impressive at Ascot as he won by six lengths.
It was decided that a rest would be best before taking on the championship middle distance race in Europe; the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp. He routed that race too, scoring by three lengths to end a most wonderful season.
Mill Reef was kept in training as a four-year-old in 1972, going back to the scene of his Arc win to score in the Prix Ganay by an amazing ten lengths. He also took in and won the Coronation Stakes at Epsom.
Known to be a brilliant horse over a mile and a half, it was decided that an earth-shattering rematch with no.1 miler Brigadier Gerard over 1¼ miles in the Eclipse was on for Mill Reef. Before the race however, he was suffering from a virus and that match-up had to be put back.
Having benefitted from his rest, Mill Reef was being trained for a repeat bid in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in October 1972.
Galloping on the training grounds before the race, the colt stumbled and broke his foreleg. An operation was scheduled for him during which a plate held by three screws was used to pin the broken pieces to his cannon bone.
The operation proved to be a success and his life was saved, but it ultimately ended his racing career. He was sent to the National Stud to embark on his stallion career.
Mill Reef’s biggest wins:
|1970||Coventry Stakes (Ascot)|
|1970||Gimcrack Stakes (York)|
|1970||Dewhurst Stakes (Newmarket)|
|1971||Greenham Stakes (Newbury)|
|1971||Eclipse Stakes (Sandown)|
|1971||King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (Ascot)|
|1971||Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Longchamp)|
|1972||Prix Ganay (Longchamp)|
|1972||Coronation Stakes (Epsom)|
These big-race wins led to Mill Reef being crowed European Horse of the Year in 1971.
Mill Reef’s 12 wins and two runner-up spots earned him £309,225. That equates to a cool £3.5 million in 2022 money.
Mill Reef Stakes
Among the many accolades given to this champion horse is the naming of a top race after him, the Mill Reef Stakes.
The Mill Reef is a Group 2 race for two-year-olds over six furlongs. It’s run at Newbury in September and has been won by future Group 1 scorers Primo Valentino, Excellent Art, Dark Angel, Awzaan, Ribchester and Harry Angel among others.
As we mentioned earlier, Mill Reef was bred in Virginia by philanthropic businessman and thoroughbred breeder Paul Mellon.
The knowledgeable team responsible for him in the States noted that his action would be better suited by turf races in Europe rather than racing on dirt in the States. Thus, he was sent to be trained in England by Ian Balding at Kingsclere, father of both Clare and Andrew Balding.
He ran in Mellon’s colours of Black, with a gold cross and stripe on the cap. Top jockey Geoff Lewis partnered Mill Reef in all of his races. Lewis had managed to win the Oaks the day before he rode Mill Reef to Derby victory, handing the rider a remarkable Classic double.