Trainer Jim Bolger
Trainer Jim Bolger

John Ingles retells the remarkable tale of Condessa, 40 years after she won the Musidora Stakes for Jim Bolger.


Jim Bolger doesn’t do things by the book. Or, at least, not the same book that other trainers seem to refer to. Last weekend’s QIPCO 2000 Guineas winner Poetic Flare was a good example, a colt who had begun his career by winning Ireland’s very first two-year-old race of the season the previous spring.

Remarkably, Bolger’s other 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach, Poetic Flare’s sire, had started his career in identical fashion. How many British trainers would start their Guineas horse in the Brocklesby?

There’s evidently no chapter on cotton wool in Bolger’s book, either. Finsceal Beo, for example, his 1000 Guineas winner in 2007, then embarked on an ambitious bid to complete a unique Guineas hat-trick.

The remarkable Finsceal Beo
The remarkable Finsceal Beo

Just a week after Newmarket, she was beaten a head in the French equivalent and two weeks after that landed the Irish 1000 Guineas. Another Bolger filly who earned her corn was Lush Lashes who had a ten-race campaign as a three-year-old, beginning at The Curragh in March and ending in Hong Kong in December. In between, she won four big races from a mile to a mile and a half; the Musidora at York, the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot, the Yorkshire Oaks (run at Newmarket that season) and the Matron Stakes at Leopardstown.

From much earlier in Bolger’s training career, Give Thanks also had ten races as a three-year-old, in 1983, winning six of them. She too won the Musidora – just four days after winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial! – and later in the season won the Lancashire Oaks and Irish Oaks.

However, none of these fillies had quite such an exacting three-year-old campaign as Condessa who was the first of Bolger’s three Musidora winners 40 years ago. Her season took in 13 races in five different countries. She had already raced eight times as a two-year-old, winning a maiden and nursery at Gowran, but her form was nothing out of the ordinary.

As a result, her first start as a three-year-old came in a handicap at Clonmel, which she won by a head. The step up to a mile and a half clearly suited her, however, and, raced mainly over that trip for the rest of the season, she went on to contest much better races.

For her next two starts, Condessa attempted the same quick double at Lingfield and York which Give Thanks was to complete two years later. But Condessa never threatened in third in the Oaks Trial won by Leap Lively and consequently was widely expected to fare no better against the ante-post favourite for the Oaks, Fairy Footsteps, in the Musidora four days later. However, Condessa caused one of the upsets of the 1981 season against the odds-on Fairy Footsteps who had won the 1000 Guineas as the 6/4 favourite on her previous start.

1981 Musidora Stakes

Conditions were soft at York, which perhaps went a long way to explaining the result, but, either way, Condessa clearly improved a good deal whereas Fairy Footsteps failed to give her running. Condessa was last of the five runners into the straight after finding the early pace plenty quick enough but from three furlongs out she began to make relentless progress to take the lead with well over a furlong to run. As for Fairy Footsteps, she was close up and appeared to be going well early in the straight but had no response when Condessa made her move.

Meanwhile, Condessa drew clear to win by four lengths, Fairy Footsteps shaping like a non-stayer back in third as the 1000 Guineas fifth Madam Gay took second. Fairy Footsteps was certainly bred to stay the Musidora trip and further still – she was by Mill Reef and a half-sister to the St Leger winner Light Cavalry, after all – and Timeform preferred the explanation that she hadn’t handled the ground and that her hard race in the 1000 Guineas, in which she had to make all the running, had left its mark.

Fairy Footsteps never raced again whereas Condessa’s season was only just getting going. She didn’t contest the Oaks but ran next in the Ribblesdale Stakes, starting favourite but beating only one home on firmer ground. While that appeared to confirm that Condessa needed softer conditions, she soon proved otherwise when finishing an excellent second in the Irish Oaks to the Dermot Weld filly Blue Wind who had won the Oaks at Epsom by seven lengths from Madam Gay.

Condessa went one better back on the Knavesmire in the Yorkshire Oaks, though. As in the Musidora, she went to York on the back of a defeat just days beforehand, this time finishing only fourth in the Blandford Stakes three days earlier.

Condessa’s Yorkshire Oaks was marred by the fatal accident sustained by Willie Carson’s mount Silken Knot who was up with the pace when falling turning for home. Condessa was already last at that stage after getting outpaced early on and then had to run wide to avoid Silken Knot’s stricken jockey, leaving her with an apparently hopeless task. Making headway out wide, Condessa still had four fillies in front of her with a furlong to go but stayed on strongly to hit the front with 50 yards to run and won going away by a neck from Leap Lively who had beaten her at Lingfield.

Timeform £10 free offer
Timeform £10 free offer

Condessa had three more starts for Bolger, including when starting favourite on her next visit to Britain for the Park Hill Stakes over a trip she should have relished judged on the way she finished in the Yorkshire Oaks. But she was a disappointing sixth at Doncaster and, as a result, missed what would have been her quickest turn-around of the season as the plan had been to run her again in the St Leger 24 hours later!

Instead, Condessa’s final start for Bolger was her stiffest task all season when she was sent off one of the 99/1 outsiders in the Arc. In the words of her essay in Racehorses, the blinkered Condessa ‘muffed it by walking reluctantly out of the stalls and trailing round at the back’.

But that still wasn’t the end of Condessa’s season. She had been bought by American owner Craig Singer for a sum reported to be more than half a million dollars after the Musidora. Following the Arc she was shipped across the Atlantic for three more starts for new trainer Howard Tesher. Her best run in North America came in Canada where she finished seventh in the Rothmans International at Woodbine.

Despite visiting top US-based stallions such as Mr Prospector, Danzig and Nijinsky, Condessa’s record as a broodmare was fairly modest though her great grandson Tout Seul pulled off a shock win in the 2002 Dewhurst at odds of 25/1.

The two fillies who finished in front of Condessa in the Lingfield Oaks Trial, on the other hand, have left far greater legacies at stud. Leap Lively resurfaced last weekend as the fifth dam of Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit, while runner-up Allegretta became dam of Arc winner Urban Sea and grandam of Galileo and Sea The Stars.


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