“Race of the Century” – Forty Years On
This weekend’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes looks to provide Golden Horn with his sixth straight success in a row. The unbeaten three year-old is currently rated as the world’s best horse and with a Dante, Derby and Eclipse to his name it’s easy to understand why. The King George is steeped in history and this weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Grundy/Bustino battle up the glorious straight of Ascot.
Dubbed the ‘race of the century’ Grundy was the 4/5 favourite for the race with Bustino his nearest rival at 4/1. Grundy had just been touched off in the English 2000 Guineas but went on to win the Irish equivalent as well as the English and Irish derbies. His blistering turn of foot forced his rivals to capitulate in the final furlong and it was this that connections of Bustino looked to foil. Bustino himself had won the St Leger the year before as well as the Great Voltigeur Stakes and had a brilliant mix of stamina and speed.
Bustino’s two pacemakers, Highest and Kinglet, went off at five furlong speed to string out the field from the outset. As one faltered the other took it up to ensure a blistering pace before Bustino took the race to Grundy by kicking on at the top of the straight. The aim was to take the sting out of Grundy’s brilliant turn of foot which they had achieved but the dual-derby winner was far too strong and managed to get up to win by half a length.
What made the Grundy and Bustino duel so brilliant was the way in which each horse rallied to the others challenge. The race time smashed the course record by two and a half seconds and it wasn’t until Harbinger won the race in 2010 that it was broken – a phenomenal 35 years at the top.
Perhaps what made this race so iconic is that it effectively ended both horses’ careers. Grundy returned to the racecourse at York three weeks later but looked a shadow of his former self. Bustino never made it back to the racecourse. The King George was the final act of these two brilliant horses and they both enjoyed an honourable retirement having played the star roles in the race of the century.
It’s unlikely that we will see such a race this weekend but it would be incredible in another way if Golden Horn could win in scintillating fashion. He races over his preferred 12 furlongs and you just couldn’t bet against this superstar maintaining his unbeaten record and doing justice to the great history of this race.