Mill Reef

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Mill Reef
Mill Reef at Rokeby.jpg
This statue of Mill Reef stands in the center of Rokeby Stables in Upperville, Virginia
SireNever Bend
DamMilan Mill
CountryUnited States
BreederPaul Mellon
OwnerPaul Mellon Colours: Black, gold cross and stripe on cap.
TrainerIan Balding
Major wins
Coventry Stakes (1970)
Gimcrack Stakes (1970)
Dewhurst Stakes (1970)
Greenham Stakes (1971)
Epsom Derby (1971)
Eclipse Stakes (1971)
K. George VI & Q. Elizabeth Stakes (1971)
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (1971)
Prix Ganay (1972)
Coronation Cup (1972)
English 3-Yr-Old Champion Colt (1971)
European Horse of the Year (1971)
English Champion Older Horse (1972)
Timeform rating: 141
Leading sire in GB & Ireland (1978, 1987)
#4 - 20th Century's Top 100 European Racehorses
Life-size statue at The National Stud, Newmarket
Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury Racecourse
Last updated on 9 June 2009

Mill Reef (1968–1986) was a Champion Thoroughbred racehorse and sire. He was bred in the United States but was trained in the United Kingdom throughout his racing career which lasted from 1970 to 1972. Mill Reef won twelve of his fourteen races and finished second in the other two. He was an outstanding two-year-old in 1970, and proved even better at three, winning the Epsom Derby, the Eclipse Stakes, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. He won both his starts as a four-year-old before his racing career was ended by injury.

He was an exact contemporary of another British-trained champion, the English-bred Brigadier Gerard who defeated him in their only racecourse meeting in the 2000 Guineas. As the race was over Brigadier Gerard's optimum distance of one mile, the relative merits of the two colts continued to be the subject of debate.


Mill Reef was bred in the United States of America at the Rokeby Stables in Virginia of his owner and breeder the philanthropist Paul Mellon. He was a son of Never Bend out of the mare Milan Mill by Princequillo. As a yearling it was thought that his action better suited him to a career on the turf courses in Europe rather than the dirt tracks in America and so he was sent to England in December 1969 to be trained by Paul Mellon's young English trainer Ian Balding at Kingsclere. He was ridden by Geoff Lewis in all his fourteen races. Mellon named the horse after the Mill Reef Club, which is situated on the island of Antigua in the West Indies. The Mellon family has maintained a home at Mill Reef since its founding in 1947.

As a yearling Mill Reef showed himself to be an exceptional talent. Once, whilst visiting the stables and watching the yearlings being put through their paces on the Kingsclere gallops, the noted former amateur jockey and journalist Lord Oaksey asked, "Who's that?" to which Balding replied, "That is Mill Reef!" and he went on to prove himself to be an outstanding two year old in 1970.

The Royal Veterinary College's Hawkshead Campus in Hertfordshire has a dedicated pathology building in memory of Mill Reef named the "Mill Reef Building".[1]

Racing career[edit]

1970: two-year-old season[edit]

Mill Reef made his debut in May in the Salisbury Stakes at Salisbury, where he beat the previous winner and 2-9 favourite, the Lester Piggott-ridden Fireside Chat, by four lengths.[2] He then went to Royal Ascot winning the Coventry Stakes by six lengths,[3] and the decision was made to go to France for the Prix Robert Papin at Maisons-Laffitte. After an arduous journey, Mill Reef tasted defeat for the first time by the narrowest of margins to another exceptional English two-year-old, My Swallow.

Back on home soil, he was entered in the Gimcrack Stakes at York in mid August. After a torrential overnight downpour turned the going into a quagmire, his trainer wanted to scratch him from the race. However, after discussions with his owner prior to the race, Paul Mellon said, "Let him run, I've a feeling it will be alright." Mill Reef won by ten lengths from Green God (who was crowned champion sprinter the following year).[4][5] In his next race, he beat the filly Hecla by a length in the Imperial Stakes at Kempton[6] . In his final race of the season, he won the prestigious Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket by four lengths.[7][8]

In a crop of outstanding two-year-olds, Mill Reef was rated 1 lb below his French conqueror My Swallow, who remained unbeaten in 7 races including all of France's top two-year-old races, and 1 lb ahead of the unbeaten Middle Park Stakes winner, Brigadier Gerard.

1971: three-year-old season[edit]

As a three-year-old, following a victory in the Greenham Stakes at Newbury,[9] Mill Reef was beaten three lengths in the 2,000 Guineas by Brigadier Gerard,[10] who was to prove himself one of the best milers ever, with his old rival My Swallow back in third.

Although his breeding hinted otherwise, Mill Reef then proved himself to be the outstanding middle distance racehorse of the year, winning The Derby by two lengths from Linden Tree,[11][12] the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown (beating the crack French colt Caro by four lengths)[13][14] and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot by six lengths from Derby Italiano winner Ortis.[15]

In October, he was victorious in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France, beating the star French filly Pistol Packer by three lengths.

1972: four-year-old season[edit]

Kept in training as a four-year-old, Mill Reef returned to Longchamp to win the Prix Ganay in April 1972 by ten lengths (though photographs of the finish make it closer to twelve lengths). A summer rematch with Brigadier Gerard, who had also been kept in training as a four-year-old, was earmarked for the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown. But after a narrow win in the Coronation Cup at Epsom Downs, by a neck from Homeric,[16][17] Mill Reef was found to be suffering from a heavy virus, and the rematch had to be postponed.

After his recovery, Mill Reef was trained for an autumn campaign and a return to the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in October. During a routine training gallop, however, he stumbled and shattered his foreleg. Charles Allen, a veterinary specialist, was flown in. Mill Reef's fracture was complicated. A triangularly shaped piece of bone about two and a half inches long was broken from the lower end of the cannon bone and was considerably displaced. The inner sesamoid bone was completely shattered, and the rim of the top of the main pastern bone was damaged. It seemed likely that the inner sesamoid bone was the first to break, with the result on the next step that the fetlock was not braced and the foot and the pastern were pointing outwards. The sheer pressure of the horse's weight caused the crumbling of the rim of the pastern bone and the breaking of the cannon bone.

It was decided that an operation would be performed in a building in Ian Balding's yard. Over a span of six hours, a simplified stainless-steel compression plate held by 3 screws was used to pin the broken pieces to the cannon bone. The injuries on the sesamoid bone or the rim of the pastern were avoided. The operation was successful. Professor Edwin James Roberts performed the operation, and Mill Reef's life was saved. His stable lad, John Hallum, played a major role in nursing him for three months. After the painstaking operation, Mill Reef's racing career was over and he became a stallion at The National Stud in Newmarket.

Stud career[edit]

In a very successful stud career his offspring included Shirley Heights, Acamas, Wassl, Diamond Shoal, Fairy Footsteps, Doyoun, Glint of Gold, Ibn Bey, Lashkari, Milligram and Reference Point.

Mill Reef died in 1986 and he is buried within the National Stud where a statue stands in his memory.

Assessment, honours and awards[edit]

Mill Reef was given a rating of 141 by Timeform.

The Mill Reef Stakes at Newbury is named in his honour.

The following is inscribed on the plinth beneath his statue at the National Stud:

Swift as a bird I flew down many a course.
Princes, Lords, Commoners all sang my praise.
In victory or defeat I played my part.
Remember me, all men who love the Horse,
If hearts and spirits flag in after days;
Though small, I gave my all. I gave my heart.

From Paul Mellon's speech at the Gimcrack Dinner 1970.


Pedigree of Mill Reef
Never Bend
Nasrullah Nearco Pharos
Mumtaz Begum Blenheim
Mumtaz Mahal
Lalun Djeddah Djebel
Be Faithful Bimelech
Milan Mill
Princequillo Prince Rose Rose Prince
Cosquilla Papyrus
Quick Thought
Virginia Water Count Fleet Reigh Count
Red Ray Hyperion
Infra Red


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2012-03-21.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  2. ^ "Racing Results". Evening Times. 1970-05-13. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  3. ^ "Royal Ascot Results". Evening Times. 1970-06-17. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  4. ^ "Today's York Card". Glasgow Herald. 1970-08-20. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  5. ^ "York Results". Glasgow Herald. 1970-08-21. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  6. ^ "Kempton Runners". Evening Times. 1970-09-19. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  7. ^ "Mill Reef should land the odds". Glasgow Herald. 1970-10-16. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  8. ^ "Newmarket results". Glasgow Herald. 1970-10-17. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  9. ^ "Racing Results". Evening Times. 1971-04-17. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  10. ^ "2000 Guineas Field". Glasgow Herald. 1971-05-01. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  11. ^ "Derby Field". Glasgow Herald. 1971-06-02. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  12. ^ "Storming finish by Mill Reef". Glasgow Herald. 1971-06-03. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  13. ^ "Mill Reef attempts Sandown double". Glasgow Herald. 1971-07-03. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  14. ^ "Racing Results". Evening Times. 1971-07-03. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  15. ^ "Mill Reef is best again". Evening Times. 1971-07-24. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  16. ^ "Epsom card tomorrow". Evening Times. 1972-06-07. Retrieved 2015-07-26.
  17. ^ "Today's Racing". Evening Times. 1972-06-08. Retrieved 2015-07-26.

Further reading[edit]

  • Oaksey, John (1974). Mill Reef. Michael Joseph.