Wonder Mares : Sun Chariot

Sun Chariot
Sun Chariot (sporthorse-data.com)

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

In the latest instalment of my ‘Wonder Mares’ series, I’m going to talk about Sun Chariot.

Born in 1939, Sun Chariot was bred by the National Stud. Her sire was Derby and St Leger winner Hyperion, who was the most successful British-bred sire of the entire 20th Century, and her dam was named Clarence.

This filly did all of her racing when war was raging in Europe and her successes probably acted as something of a happy distraction for her owner King George VI and his involvement was a key factor in the survival of racing through the war. She was trained by Fred Darling, six times champion trainer and multiple winner of each of the five Classics. He trained out of Beckhampton in Wiltshire, where Roger Charlton has trained from 1990. Beckhampton was Darling’s base from 1913 until his retirement in 1947, when Noel Murless, who trained another ‘Wonder Mare’ Petite Etoile, took over the property until 1952 when he moved to Warren Place.

Darling died six years later, reportedly shortly after listening to his stable jockey of sixteen years, Gordon Richards, win the Derby on Pinza for Norman Bertie. The Derby had eluded Richards for all of those years when riding for Darling. In 1940, it was expected that Richards would ride Pont L’Eveque, a descendant of ‘Wonder Mare’ Signorinetta but he chose Tant Mieux and Pont L’Eveque won. Darling and Richards became a formidable combination. However, their partnership didn’t commence when Darling wanted it to – he approached Richards in 1929 but, due to a better offer, he didn’t become his first jockey until the 1931 season. Yes, they were a partnership professionally but I found it interesting that Darling ‘had no friendships with the people who worked for him and preferred them not to have friendships with each other either!’

Despite her good breeding and maestro trainer, Sun Chariot showed such little promise before stepping her hooves onto a racecourse that she was nearly sent back to the National Stud!

However, Sun Chariot was incredible on the track. In her two-year-old campaign in 1941, she won the Queen Mary at Royal Ascot, over five furlongs. Next, it seems as though Darling knew this filly was good as he decided to run her in the Middle Park Stakes against top juvenile colts Watling Street, who won the Derby, and Ujiji. She duly won easily under Harry Wragg. From what I’ve read about Harry Wragg he seems to be the Jamie Spencer of the 20th Century, holding up his horses until the last minute. He won the Derby on 33/1 outsider Felstead in 1928 by using those patient tactics. He won the 1941 Jockeys Championship after Gordon Richards was out for the majority of the season with an injury. This is probably the reason why he picked up the ride on Sun Chariot in the first place. He won thirteen Classics as a jockey and five when training, including Psidium at 66/1 in the Derby.

Sun Chariot won two other races at two but disaster struck on her first run as a three-year-old when she refused to put any effort into the race. This would go on to be the only time she was ever beaten. Darling then sent her to the 1000 Guineas despite the previous start when she displayed her difficult temperament. Gordon Richards rode her and the pair won the Fillies’ Classic without any messing about from Sun Chariot. Next, her target was the Oaks, stepping up four furlongs in trip. Despite hanging dramatically around the bend, Sun Chariot and Richards won the Oaks.

That wasn’t the end of Sun Chariot’s Classic exploits – connections decided to go for the St Leger in an attempt to win the Triple Crown. The versatility of this mare is truly outstanding. A winner of the Middle Park and Queen Mary at two, both over sprint trips, she’d just won the Oaks and was now going for the St Leger. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t be the ‘done thing’ to run a Middle Park/Queen Mary winning filly in the St Leger nowadays – and that’s not just because fillies can no longer run in the Middle Park!

But she won!

By winning the St Leger, Sun Chariot became the seventh winner of the Fillies Triple Crown and only two horses have taken that title since. This victory capped a brilliant season for rider Gordon Richards, who won four out of the five English Classics. He won the 2000 Guineas on Big Game, who was owned by King George VI and trained by Fred Darling – like Sun Chariot. The 1942 Derby winner was Watling Street, ridden by Harry Wragg and they followed in Sun Chariot in the St Leger.

sun chariot big game
Sun Chariot and Big Game (Getty Images)

At stud, Sun Chariot had ten foals with two being by Big Game – Gigantic (winner of the Imperial Stakes and sire of stakes winners in New Zealand) and a filly called Game Cart. Other notable foals of hers include Pindari (winner of the king Edward VII Stakes and Great Voltigeur); Laudau (sire of multiple stakes winners in Australia) and Blue Train (who never really reached his potential due to injuries).

Sun Chariot died in 1963 but her legacy lives on in the race named after her – the Sun Chariot Stakes. Raced in early October, it is a group one for fillies and mares over one mile. In recent years, it has been won by Billesdon Brook, Laurens, Roly Poly, Alice Springs and Sky Lantern.

For any horse to win a Classic is a wonderful achievement but this quirky filly managed to win three and complete the Fillies Triple Crown. She is a credit to the talent of her trainer Fred Darling and jockey Sir Gordon Richards and wouldn’t it be great to see some more group one level horses like her running at a variety of trips during their careers!

Wonder Mares Part One – Petite Etoile

Wonder Mares Part Two – Signorinetta

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