Mid-April should be the time for many flat racing fans to pick up their Horses in Training book and head off in the spring sunshine to the Rowley Mile for the Craven meeting.


Sadly, with no racing on home soil since 17 March because of the coronavirus and no official return scheduled to date, this year’s Guineas trials, principally the Nell Gwyn and Craven Stakes will not take place.  Even the dates of Newmarket’s Classics have been postponed in the hope of being rearranged later in the summer.

Our latest blog by Stephen Wallis reviews the history of the Craven Stakes which was first run in 1771.  The first Craven meeting began on Easter Monday and was named after Jockey Club member William Craven, the 6th Baron Craven.  At the beginning the race was a weight for age race and the officially recorded distance in 1771 was 1m 2f 44 yards from the Running Gap to the Rowley Mile Post near the turn of the lands.  The race distance changed to one mile in 1869 on the Rowley Mile course.   In 1877 it was an optional claimer while the following year it became a race only for three-year-olds.  It was restricted to colts and geldings in 1979 and gained Group 3 status when the pattern system was introduced in 1971.

One of its earliest notable winners in 1782 was a nine-year-old Pot-8-Os, a son of Eclipse, whose skeleton is displayed in the Rothschild Yard of the National Horse Racing Museum.

Other famous winners before its conversion to a classic trial in 1878 include Hambletonian, winner in 1797, two years after his St Leger success.  Ditto, in 1805 became the first Derby winner to win the Craven Stakes, albeit two years after his success at Epsom. Furthermore, Derby victor’s Priam (1831), Plenipotentiary (1835) Lord Lyon (1866) Blue Gown (1869) all had subsequent success in the Craven.

Since 1878 the race has featured a roll call of winners who have gone on the win major International races.   The 2000 Guineas, the Derby, Irish Derby, Prix de L’arc de Triomphe, Washington DC international, King George, Eclipse and nearly the Champion Hurdle!  Scot Free in 1884 was the first horse to win the Craven and the 2000 Guineas in the same year.

Jeddah trained by the Royal trainer Richard Marsh at Egerton House, Newmarket took the prize in 1898 en route, via 5th in the 2000 Guineas, to glory in the Blue Riband at Epsom.  Not that the 16.3 hh chestnut was expected to do so.  The colt was one only three 100/1 winners of the Epsom Classic.



Probably the best Craven Stakes of modern times occurred in 2018 when the Godolphin owned Masar easily beat the odds on favourite Roaring Lion.  Masar went on to win the Derby while the John Gosden trained grey, Roaring Lion, won four subsequent Group 1 races and ended the year as the highest-ranked three-year-old in the world.

The best horse to win the Craven must be Dancing Brave, who ended his career storming home to victory at Longchamp in the 1986 Prix de L’arc de Triomphe.  The Khalid Abdullah owned bay had followed up his Craven triumph with success in the 2000 Guineas before his dramatic half-length defeat in the Derby.  Subsequently, he won the Eclipse and King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Migoli, who won the Craven in 1947, is the only other horse to achieve the Arc Craven double winning the former a year later.

Tyrnavos (right) winning the 1980 Craven Stakes.

Palace House has its own connection with the race via the Bruce Hobbs trained Tyrnavos, who in 1980 won the Craven ahead of his late June win in the Irish Derby.

The best story of any Craven winner should go to Aurelius (pictured below), who won in 1961.  A Royal Ascot and St Leger winner, a flop at stud, he eventually went hurdling where he crossed the line 2nd in the 1967 Champion Hurdle before being disqualified after causing interference.

The Hills family, courtesy of trainer Barry and jockey Richard steered Haafd to the Craven/2000 Guineas double in 2004, the last horse to do so.

Aurelius (foaled 1958) was an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse and sire best known for winning the classic St Leger Stakes
Aurelius (foaled 1958) was an Irish Thoroughbred racehorse and sire best known for winning the classic St Leger Stakes

The Craven remains a key early-season race in the build-up to the 2000 Guineas. Next year this historic race will be celebrating its 250th anniversary and racing fans will once again gather in the spring sunshine at the Rowley Mile to find a pointer or two for the 2000 Guineas.


Photo of Tyrnavos courtesy of Ed Byrne and Timeform

Blog by Stephen Wallis