Ascot Legends: Sagaro

"One of the most brilliant stayers to have ever graced Ascot’s turf, Sagaro was the first horse to win the Gold Cup three times. He was an outstanding stayer who possessed a potent turn of foot." - Rory Delargy profiles the career of the great French racehorse who lends his name to Ascot's Gold Cup trial.

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Sagaro, one of the most brilliant stayers to have ever graced Ascot’s turf, was the first horse to win the Gold Cup three times. He was an outstanding stayer who possessed a potent turn of foot.

Owned and bred by financier Gerry Oldham, both his sire Espresso and dam Zambara were successful on the track carrying Oldham’s familiar chocolate and white hoops in the 1960s. Espresso was a tough and consistent handicapper, and although the records will state that he won the Craven Stakes, it was a handicap at Goodwood by that name and not the Newmarket contest in which he proved successful. 

He did, however, gain black type by winning consecutive runnings of the Grosser Preis Von Baden to earn his stripes as a potential sire. Zambara was lightly raced, but was successful in the Wood Ditton Stakes at Newmarket on her racecourse debut which proved her only success. Both horses were trained for Oldham by Harry Wragg at Abingdon Place in Newmarket.

THE EMERGING STAR

A winner over an extended mile as a juvenile for the great Lamorlaye trainer Francois Boutin, Sagaro was a revelation as a three-year-old when tackling trips beyond a mile and a half, and while he was well beaten in the Arc behind Allez France, his defeat of Derby fourth and subsequent St Leger winner Bustino in the Grand Prix de Paris (then run over almost two miles) saw him awarded a Timeform rating of 131, 1lb higher than Bustino and Champion Stakes winner Giacometti, and 6lb higher than Derby hero Snow Knight.

Sagaro first graced Ascot as a four-year-old in the 1975 Gold Cup having been beaten by Le Bavard in the Prix du Cadran at Longchamp - the race then run in May as opposed to the current October slot - on his previous outing, but any doubt as to his status was snuffed out when he coasted to a facile success, the race over as soon as Lester Piggott pulled him to the outer and asked him to quicken. The margin between him and Mistigri was four lengths, but could have been doubled had his rider asked for more. 

After an enquiry, the runner-up was disqualified, and Le Bavard, almost a length further back in third, was promoted. Given the ease of his Gold Cup win, it’s surprising that Sagaro failed to win another race in 1975, but in his moment of glory he showed his key attribute, which was the ability to produce a sharp turn of foot at the end of a staying race.

In 1976, Sagaro had a shorter but more successful campaign, losing only one of his four races. After another easy win in the Prix du Cadran, Sagaro proved too strong for Crash Course and Sea Anchor in the Gold Cup, the margin just a length this time, but the form-book adding the word “cleverly” to demonstrate that Lester was again holding the nut hand. He never ran again that year, and it was reported that Gerry Oldham was keen to syndicate him as a sire, but received little interest, and reasoning that winning the Cadran and Gold Cup again would win him as much as he could be likely to earn as a stallion in the covering season, kept him in training for another year. What an auspicious decision that proved to be.
 

BATTLES AGAINST BUCKSKIN

As in the previous year, the main targets for Sagaro were the Gold Cup and its French equivalent, the Prix du Cadran, both Group 1 contests over two and a half miles, and the Ascot race was earmarked as his final run before retirement. Once again, his pre-Ascot schedule saw him take in the Prix Bde Barbeville and the Prix Jean Prat at Longchamp in April, and on both occasions he was slammed by rising star Buckskin, a four-year-old who only made his racecourse debut the previous autumn. It was expected that a race-fit Buckskin would be too strong for Sagaro in the Barbeville, but the margin of 20 lengths was an eye-opener. 

In the Jean Prat, Sagaro reduced the gap to four lengths, but Buckskin was again impressive, and the showdown in the Cadran was much anticipated. Unlike in his previous wins, Buckskin was no longer receiving weight from Sagaro, now fully fit, in the Cadran, and when Philippe Paquet moved him up to pass the young pretender with two furlongs to travel, it seemed that normal order was about to be restored. But Buckskin proved his own mettle by battling back to a narrow victory and to great acclaim, and he immediately assumed the mantle of Gold Cup favourite.


BID FOR A THIRD GOLD CUP

The Ascot race not only provided a third rematch between two outstanding stayers, but also featured Ryan Price’s brilliant but temperamental 1975 St Leger winner Bruni, an almost white grey who had a devoted following. The race was a memorable one, with Buckskin helping to set a strong pace throughout, and still in front turning into the home straight, with Lester on Sagaro and Brian Taylor on Bruni giving chase; the latter flattered to deceive, with his run petering out before the quarter-mile marker, but Piggott was clearly cruising on Sagaro and merely had to take him out of the leader’s slipstream and shake him up briefly to unleash that famous late thrust, with his winning margin being five lengths eased down.
 

Despite being humbled on his three previous runs that spring, Sagaro showed how well suited he was to the demands of Ascot by producing the greatest performance of his career (rated 133 by Timeform), and in doing so became the first horse to win the great race three times.

Neither his pedigree, being by an unfashionable sire, nor his profile as a thorough stayer at a time when stamina was shunned by commercial breeders, made Sagaro an obvious candidate as a stallion. He was bought by the National Stud for the knockdown price of £175,000, and predictably struggled to attract mares of any real calibre; the best of his progeny were Super Sunrise, who won the 1982 Chester Vase before competing successfully in North America, and 1983 Cambridgeshire winner Sagamore.

When Sagaro died in 1986, he was standing at the Emral Stud near Wrexham for a fee of just £400. A poor epitaph for a truly magnificent racehorse.

It’s probably best left to his regular Gold Cup partner, Lester Piggott, to sum him up: “He really was a magnificent stayer, as good as any I rode, and his turn of foot was – for a long-distance performer – phenomenal.” 

Sagaro and Gerald Oldham
Owner and breeder Gerald Oldham with Sagaro after the colt's triumph in the 1975 Gold Cup.
Ascot Legends: Sagaro