Moments after John Gosden had sent out Nathaniel to land a compelling renewal of the Coral-Eclipse in 2012, the trainer was asked about the role of the Rothschild family in the success.
“They do the most impossible thing, they are owner-breeders, which borders on insanity because you are playing God with genetics,” he said.
Less than three months earlier, another homebred destined for his Newmarket yard had been foaled. This time Anthony Oppenheimer was the breeder responsible for the equine chemistry – he was curious what a union between Cape Cross and Fleche D’Or would yield – and the end product was even more explosive.
Golden Horn, as that foal was eventually christened, was Europe’s outstanding middle-distance performer in 2015 – winning the Feilden Stakes, Dante Stakes, Investec Derby, Coral-Eclipse, QIPCO Irish Champion Stakes and Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
As if that were not enough, he also finished runner-up in the Juddmonte International Stakes and Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf. He would have run in the QIPCO-sponsored King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, too, had heavy rain not transformed conditions on the morning of the race.
Gosden hailed him as the best middle-distance horse he had trained, and was often in awe of his constitution. He would have relished handling him as a four-year-old, too, but Oppenheimer was keener to see what offspring he might help yield at stud.
Golden Horn ran only once as a two-year-old, winning a Nottingham maiden in late October at the expense of Storm The Stars, a smart rival he would meet again.
Gosden and Oppenheimer believed they had a French Derby prospect on their hands at the start of 2015, with his pedigree suggesting a mile and a quarter would probably be his optimum trip. They confirmed that was the plan for him after he won the nine-furlong Listed Feilden Stakes at Newmarket on his reappearance. At the time, he was not even engaged at Epsom.
That plan was turned on its head, though, when he thumped Jack Hobbs and Elm Park on his next start in the Betfred Dante Stakes at York.
His emphatic victory catapulted him to the top of the market for the Investec Derby and it did not take long for Oppenheimer to commit him to the race and pay the required £75,000 supplementary fee.
It proved money well spent. Golden Horn started 7-4 favourite and was initially settled towards the rear by Frankie Dettori. Under a cool ride by the italian, the colt quickened magnificently to beat stablemate Jack Hobbs by three and a half lengths, with Storm The Stars another four and a half lengths back in third.
He took on a quartet of older and more experienced rivals in the Coral-Eclipse a month later and stayed on strongly to record another three-and-a-half-length victory – this time at the expense of the reliable The Grey Gatsby.
Golden Horn was a late absentee from the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes because of the soft ground and conditions (good to soft) were probably not ideal on his next start, in the Juddmonte International Stakes at York, when he was also betrayed by a muddling pace. Sent off at 4-9, he still looked like winning a furlong out, but could not get past the resolute Arabian Queen, who started at 50-1.
That blip was erased on his next two starts. In the Irish Champion Stakes, he made most and repelled Found and Free Eagle in the closing stages, despite hanging violently right (connections put that down to a shadow) with about 150 yards to run.
Then, in the Arc, after Dettori had steered a wide course from an unfavourable draw, he again displayed his superb turn of foot to win in tremendous style. Flintshire, runner-up the previous year, filled the same position, beaten two lengths, with New Bay, the French Derby winner, third, and Treve, seeking a record-breaking third win in the race, fourth. Nobody could quibble with the strength of the form.
Oppenheimer and Gosden considered pulling up stumps there and then, but Golden Horn came out of the race so well that they opted to give him one final race – the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf at Keeneland on October 31.
Golden Horn again gave his all but Found, receiving 3lb from him, proved the stronger and beat him by half a length.
The assessors awarded Golden Horn a final rating of 130. Gosden must already be relishing training his sons and daughters in the years ahead.