By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)
The Aintree Grand National is always one of the most highly-anticipated races of the year. For the fifth edition of the ‘Wonder Mares’ Series, I take a look at Dubacilla, a much-loved mare who went very close to winning most famous race of them all.
Dubacilla was bred by Henry Cole and was foaled on 8th May 1986. This bay mare’s sire was Dubasoff. He won over $300,000 from thirty starts, winning eleven and placing in four. Her dam, Just Camilla, raced twice without winning. Cole purchased her for 1250 guineas and, in an interview, described her as an “ugly old thing” but knew she would be a good broodmare.
Her first foal was a black colt named Just So. He won three point-to-points before he began his rules career in December 1989. He ran in the 1992 Grand National and came sixth but didn’t partake in the void 1993 renewal. His best performance in the race was in 1994, at the age of 11, when he stayed on from the elbow to only be beaten one and a quarter lengths by Miinnehoma.
By the time it came to Dubacilla’s first race, her brother had won one race under rules and she was sent off at 50/1 for a bumper at Newbury. It was won by subsequent Cheltenham Festival winner Royal Miller but Dubacilla was thirteenth of twenty-four rivals.
Dubacilla wasn’t an instant sensation. She ran eight times for a few different trainers without even placing before she won in a mares’ chase at Wincanton in January 1993 for her owner/trainer Henry Cole, who never had more than four horses in at a time. She followed up at Taunton by twelve lengths and earned herself a place in the Scilly Isles Novices Chase. Unfortunately, she parted company with Simon Burrough at the thirteenth fence. It was won by Young Hustler, who went on to win the Sun Alliance Chase (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase) at Cheltenham.
After the unseat at Sandown, Dubacilla won at Taunton and was then beaten by the subsequent National Hunt Chase runner-up, Claxton Greene. To conclude the 1992/92 season, she won at Uttoxeter and Ascot by a combined thirty-five lengths. At the beginning of the next season, she was second, giving nearly a stone to her rival, and then she was third at Newbury. She returned to Uttoxeter in the December to win by three lengths.
In January 1994, she was the 8/1 third favourite for the Timeform Hall Of Fame Chase, now known as the Cotswold Chase. Ridden by Dean Gallagher, she raced with Sibton Abbey in mid-division, jumping very well. By the last ditch, Dubacilla was stalking the leading pair – 5/6 favourite Run For Free, a Scottish and Welsh National winner, and her old foe, Young Hustler. Run For Free was first to crack with Young Hustler taking the lead and Dubacilla following him. By the third last, they were neck-and-neck. She cruised to the lead, shortly after, and pinged the last two obstacles.
After this, she went to the Comet Handicap Chase at Ascot, which is now known as the Swinley Chase and was won by Captain Chaos this season. She was held up at the back of the field but made steady progress amongst the chasing pack that loomed behind long-time leader Cuddy Dale. She jumped to the lead at three out but, by the last, Rough Quest, 1996 Grand National winner, was matching strides. The little mare was tenacious and managed to beat the larger gelding by half a length. She had 12st on her back and Rough Quest carried just 10st10.
She didn’t run at the 1994 Cheltenham Festival but she would’ve gone to any of the races with a strong chance. Instead, they went to Aintree where she was only third after a last fence error beaten by Docklands Express and Black Humour, who ran two days later in the Grand National and fell at the Chair.
The incredible run of Just So to be second in the 1994 Grand National sparked a plan in owner/trainer/breeder Henry Cole. Dubacilla was to be sent to champion trainer David Nicholson in order to have the mare in the best shape to try and go one place better in the following year’s Grand National.
Dubacilla got off to an excellent start with Nicholson as she won the Gunpowder Plot Handicap Chase at Sandown under Adrian Maguire, reversing Aintree form with Docklands Express. She was 3/1 favourite carrying 11st9 in the Hennessy Gold Cup (Ladbrokes Trophy) but could only manage seventh behind the wonderful One Man.
Next time out, she finished second at Ascot in the Betterware Handicap Chase (now known as the Ascot Silver Cup). She couldn’t quite give the weight to Raymylette. Next time, she was defeated again at Sandown, finishing fifth of ten, but only beaten three lengths. She was carrying 12st, which made this run even more impressive as the others were carrying 11st3 or less. Dean Gallagher was back on board her after Henry Cole decided he understood the mare better than Nicholson’s stable jockey Adrian Maguire.
Dubacilla was guilty of an “old family trait” when she raced. Cole said in an interview that she “drops herself out and takes about a mile or so to get the adrenaline pumping, to get her temper up”. She often came from the back and you could argue that this tactic made racing against Master Oaks at Cheltenham in the Cotswold Chase and Cheltenham Gold Cup so difficult. She was tailed off at times in both races. The trips only differed by a furlong but, by the time Master Oats hit the front, Dubacilla had no chance of getting past him. She was beaten fifteen lengths into second in January and the same again in March.
This was a remarkable feat by the gutsy little mare. There was no 7lbs mares’ allowance back then. Just one mare has ran in the Gold Cup since Dubacilla did in 1995. That was Shattered Love, a grade one novice chase winner at the Cheltenham Festival before. She started at 20/1 and finished ninth in 2019.
Now, connections were eyeing up the final stages of their plan – the Grand National. With Master Oats in the race, there was a compressed handicap. He had 11st10lbs. The previous year’s Grand National winner, Miinehoma, had 11st4lbs. Dubacilla’s old adversary Young Hustler, who became a regular runner over National fences, had 11st2lbs and Dubacilla carried 11st. Horses numbered five through to ten carried between 10st and 11st and the remaining thirty carried 10st exactly.
Dubacilla was barely mentioned in the commentary until they went out on the final circuit and she was second last. It is miraculous Dean Gallagher managed to keep her out of trouble because it was messy – like any Grand National. At two out, the commentator said, “And Dubacilla making ground is but has still a tremendous lot to do.” As they jumped the last, there was six horses in front of her but she was galloping relentlessly in pursuit. She, along with another runner, was making incredible progress around the outside of the field. In the end, there was no chance that she could get to Royal Athlete, who had been give an excellent ride. Party Politics was seven lengths behind him with 100/1 shot Over The Deel in third. Dubcilla finished fourth, beaten thirteen and a half lengths by horses carrying less weight.
I can’t quite decipher how Dubacilla managed to finish fourth. She was a long way behind the leaders but Dean Gallagher was patient. He used this mare’s strengths of finishing fast and late – even over four miles and four furlongs. The racecard was right – she did stay all day.
Ten mares have run in the race since Dubacilla. One was favourite – that was Fiddling The Facts in 1999 under Mick Fitzgerald, but they fell at Bechers on the second circuit. The best finish was from Magic Of Light in 2019, finishing second at 66/1. In 2021, Magic Of Light (who wouldn’t look out of place amongst my ‘Wonder Mares’ series) is trying to go one place better. Cabaret Queen has won four times over fences and placed in a Galway Plate. Shattered Love looks to emulate Dubacilla in running in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National.
The Grand National was the last race of Dubacilla’s career. She was retired and became a broodmare. She had six foals that raced – Cillamon (Terimon), a point-to-point winner; Priscilla (Teenoso), who didn’t win; Dare To Dream (Thowra), three-time point-to-point winner and winning hurdler; Master Quasimodo (Busy Flight), winner of two bumpers, two hurdle races and four chases; Triggernometry (Double Trigger), three-time chase winner, and Justabout (Classic Cliche), who won five chases and a point-to-point.
Even though Priscilla didn’t win a race, she turned out to be a very good broodmare. Her 2003 foal, Chilla Cilla, is the dam of three-time chase winner Midnight Chill. Her next foal was named Hameldown Tor and he was by Kayf Tara. A winner of ten point-to-points, he was fifth in the Foxhunters at Cheltenham. Next, Priscilla visited Irish Guineas and Derby winner Desert King and the resulting foal was named Desert Queen. She won two point-to-points, three novice hurdles and two listed chases. Drucilla was born in 2009 and Kir Royal in 2011. In 2014, Lyrical King was foaled. However, a year before, Priscilla’s best progeny and Dubacilla’s best grandchild was foaled – Mister Malarky.
Mister Malarky has had twenty-six starts and won six of them. This chestnut, by German Derby runner-up Malinas, took a while to win, just like his granddam. His first win was in November 2017 after five previous attempts. He won two of his first three chases and won the grade two Reynoldstown Novices Chase over three miles at Ascot. His next win came a year later at Kempton. In December 2020, he won the Ascot Silver Cup Handicap Chase, a race Dubacilla finished second in when it was called the Betterware Handicap Chase. Mister Malarky’s next target is the Aintree Grand National. Connections will be hoping he can do better than his great uncle Just So coming second and his granddam coming fourth.
Dubacilla passed away aged twenty-five. She was an incredibly versatile mare and was so brave. I can’t comprehend how she managed to finish fourth in a Grand National after being out the back of the field for the majority of the way and accelerating in the final four furlongs of the stamina-sapping Grand National trip. She held her own in a Gold Cup, as well, and went on to be a successful broodmare. The fact that just one mare has run in the Gold Cup and ten mares in the Grand National since 1994 just accentuates the achievements of Dubacilla.
It would be great if Mister Malarky could get into the winners’ enclosure after the Grand National for his breeder Henry Cole after he tried so hard to win the race with Just So and Dubacilla.
I found this article from The Independent very helpful in my research for this article –
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