Jamie Lynch

Sky Sports Racing's Senior Analyst covers those memorable horses that famously finished second, from Orfevre's famous Arc to Dayjur's Breeders' Cup Sprint.

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It’s appropriate that Bill Shankly’s second-most famous quote is about the second-most rewarding position, or its secondary meaning, according to him.

‘If you are first you are first. If you are second you are nothing.’

Several studies have determined that, at the Olympics, bronze is better than silver, a team at the Centre for Economic performance concluding that runners-up have a ‘happiness rating’ of 5.92, compared to 6.65 for gold winners and 6.06 for bronze medallists. And you thought the Longines Thoroughbred Rankings were based upon shaky ratings.

In sport, second might feel meaningless, but it’s sometimes memorable. Jimmy White was defeated in five snooker World Championship finals in a row between 1990 and 1994, eerily within the same timeframe that the Buffalo Bills lost four consecutive Superbowls, and the end of the decade saw the most memorable meltdown in golfing history when Jean van de Velde threw away a three-shot lead at the last hole in the 1999 Open.  

Racing is probably ahead of the sporting pack when it comes to instances of the runners-up we remember, even more so than the winner in certain races. Given the dynamics of horse racing, of covering a distance of ground in competition with others in a meeting of minds and fusion of flesh, there are so many internal and external influences on performance that it’s not always a case that the best horse wins.

This was originally going to be a simple line-up of horses from history who qualify, but it’s more interesting for me – and more inviting for you – to broadly categorise the reasons and rationale behind the significant seconds, with an example for each, and then you can help to compile a comprehensive list with Alex and myself on Stateside on Wednesday, on a show with the sub-title of: Second Best.

What we’re after is those races from history where the second was more memorable than the winner, and here are the chief reasons why that might be, so get thinking now and get Tweeting to @AtTheRaces or emailing racing@skyports.com on the evening.

THE SHIRKER

Sometimes finishing second is not by chance but by choice, and when the horse doesn’t want to win there’s nothing a rider can do, resulting in some spectacular snatches of defeat from the jaws of victory over the years, but there’s one who stands ungainly head and shoulders above all.

Solemia is the Paul Lawrie to Orfevre’s Jean van de Velde. Going to the figurative eighteenth, Orfevre had it all wrapped up with about as perfect a performance as you’d see in an Arc from stall 18, some sight when eating up the ground out wide in the straight, but when he found the front he lost his focus, not only hanging to the rail but colliding with it at one point.

The spectre of Harchibald looms over any list entitled ‘Shirkers’, though Hardy Eustace is easier recalled than Solemia, which says something about what both faced and how both failed on their defining day.

THE LATE LATE SHOW

It’s a classic of the genre, the default depiction in your mind’s eye when thinking about those races in which the runner-up was more memorable than the winner, and with good reason, because of the relative frequency and the relevant fame. And, rightly or wrongly, any analysis is to sit in judgement about jockey misjudgement.

In the moment, in the movements, commentators are often the first to spot it, and the best ones convey it. Around two furlongs out in the 1986 Derby, Graham Goode explosively expressed that ‘Dancing Brave is starting to motor but OH SO MUCH TO DO.’  In a second, in a soundbyte, he summed up the stakes and the situation, a tone of forewarning and foreboding, an acute assessment as Dancing Brave failed to catch Shahrastani by half-a-length.

Greville Starkey wasn’t the first or the last to fall foul of The Late Late Show, so near and yet so far back, but, 30 years on, Dancing Brave remains the painful paradigm for the type, at least in Britain, though Zenyatta would be the poster girl in America. Who else is in that late-closing club?  

THE HEARTBREAKING HEROISM

There are rare occasions when a runner-up is just a runner-up, not an unlucky loser, but their distinction in defeat earns equal if not more respect than the winner, because of what they gave or gave away, perfectly illustrated by Crisp in the 1973 Grand National when his lengthy lead was evocatively eroded by Red Rum, to whom he was conceding 23lb.

My rather more worthy and wise attheraces.com stablemate Simon Rowlands recently posted on Twitter a brilliant breakdown of that National which highlights the horsepower and miles per hour of Crisp, akin – in his words – to the monstrous moves by Aso in the virtual version last Saturday.

To heap praise on Crisp isn’t to underplay Red Rum, and the same is true ten times over for Dawn Run in the 1986 Gold Cup, but Wayward Lad scores highly on the heroism stakes for what he did in finishing second that enduring day, giving away the mares’ allowance don’t forget, on the fourth of his five appearances in the Gold Cup.

Crisp and Wayward Lad. Unlucky: no. Unforgettable: yes. They’re two different examples of runner-up royalty.

THE GROUP RACES

The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry. (Modern translation of To A Mouse by Robert Burns in 1785).

Few things upset an applecart or a favourite quite like a Flat race in which the field splits into groups. In that scenario, plans can be quashed and hopes can be squashed because things are suddenly out of a rider’s hands and out of their control, up to a point. That precise pitfall has generated some runners-up to remember over the years.

Exhibit ‘A’ is Hawk Wing, the 6/4 favourite in the 2000 Guineas of 2002, in which luck wasn’t on his side, because his side – from which he shot clear – came off second best, though time told that the winner, too, was something special, a certain Rock Of Gibraltar.

Exhibit ‘B’ is the great Dubawi, likewise 6/4 for the 2005 QEII, when Dettori picked the wrong battle for three-quarters of the race, in a trio down the middle of the track, the damage already done by the time he came across to engage winner Starcraft.

THE X-FILES

Tales of the unexpected, or indeed the unexplained. Those times when it feels like the fickle finger of fate is hovering over a horse who, if they were to make an insurance claim over their defeat, it might be filed under Act of God.

It’s not a mystery what happened to Dayjur at the Breeders’ Cup, but it was mystical, to jump a shadow with the race at his mercy, ingrained indelibly in the mind of anyone and everyone who has watched it. And seek out Spicer Cub if you haven’t seen that, another runner-up in America that’s hard to get your head around.

Dayjur and Spicer Cub were abnormal, but it was almost paranormal with Devon Loch, not a strict qualifier because he didn’t finish second, though the 1956 Grand National was in his hands until that sensational sprawl.

There are other sub-headings for the memorable runners-up in racing, including a skulduggery section (not a can of worms to be opened here) and those major prizes when the first and second were reversed by the stewards, but the outlined categories and associated examples are hopefully enough to get your mind racing, for your racing mind.

So please partake on Wednesday with us on Sky Sports Racing as we flesh out this theme of races in which the second was more memorable than the winner.


Jamie Lynch
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