Local hero George Duffield has fond memories of User Friendly and Nijinsky

Wed 9 Sep 2020

Yorkshiremen are a proud breed – and that was certainly how George Duffield felt when he won the St Leger at Doncaster on User Friendly in 1992.

Born in the village of Stanley, near Wakefield, about 35 miles from the racecourse on Town Moor, Duffield never expected to be the toast of the county by winning the world’s oldest Classic.

That was until the brilliant User Friendly came along and it was not long into her three-year-old career that Duffield made a bold prediction to her connections.

“I’m not into bold statements – I never have been – but I made one then and told Bill Gredley (owner/breeder) she’d win the Leger,” he said.

“I thought that when she won the Oaks. She was by a Derby winner (Slip Anchor) out of a good staying mare (Rostova, by another Derby hero in Blakeney).

“I had no stamina concerns whatsoever. Not only did she stay well, she had class and the ability to be a top-class Group One filly.

“She could go a good gallop. If you stretched them from three or four furlongs down they would struggle to get by you.

“She had a lot of quality and a great cruising speed and did all the right things and kept improving all year.

“I won a mile-and-a-quarter maiden on her at Sandown. Then she won the Oaks trial at Lingfield, the Oaks, the Irish Oaks, the Yorkshire Oaks and the Leger.”

The race itself went pretty smoothly, with User Friendly tracking the leaders as Mack The Knife set the pace before hitting the front two furlongs out and putting the race to bed.

Sent off the 7-4 favourite in a field of seven, the Clive Brittain-trained filly quickly showed her superiority and went on to beat Sonus by three and a half lengths.

“Being a Yorkshireman and born not far from Doncaster, winning a Leger was something I thought I would never achieve and also to get to wear one of those silly caps!

“She was a pleasure to ride and she was a very good filly.”

Duffield’s first ride in the St Leger had been a totally different experience.

It was 1970, the year of the mighty Nijinsky’s successful quest to become the first winner of the Triple Crown since 1935 – one of only four in peacetime during the 20th century and the last to date.

He was assigned by trainer Peter Walwyn to ride King Of The Castle, the 100-1 complete outsider, as a pacemaker for the stable’s first string, Rock Roi.

It did not go to plan, as Duffield recalled – but there was at least one humorous moment he shared with Nijnisky’s jockey Lester Piggott during the race.

“I was supposed to make the running, but they went so fast I couldn’t get to the front so I just sat in there and rode a normal race. The pace was strong enough for Rock Roi anyway,” he said.

“I did see Nijinsky. Lester had a chat with me just after the mile gate. We were about to set sail for home and head towards the turn for home. Lester stopped alongside me and said in his usual voice, ‘I bet you wouldn’t mind riding this’.”

Piggott and Nijinsky went on to make racing history, while Duffield and his no-hoper finished tailed off last of the nine runners.

However, he did not leave Doncaster empty-handed that day. He had the last winner on the card, Fairzan, for Jack Calvert in a staying handicap.

Duffield never had much chance to win a second Leger, but he did capture the Champagne Stakes on Unblest for James Fanshawe in 1993. And he had other notable winners on Town Moor, such as Aristotle in the Racing Post Trophy in 1999 for Aidan O’Brien, as well as two victories in the November Handicap.

“Doncaster was very lucky for me,” he said.

Duffield retired professionally in March 2005 at the age of 58, after a career spanning over 40 years that yielded 2547 winners.

He could not quite kick the habit for good and returned to ride in the early editions of the Leger Legends race that has been staged on the first day of the meeting since 2010.

“I couldn’t quite manage to win it. I was second, third and fourth,” he said.

“I thought I might just have mugged Mick Kinane one year, but I just couldn’t quite get there.”

He is married to North Yorkshire trainer Ann Duffield and still plays an active role. He also keeps a close eye on the wider racing picture.

“I’ll be watching. I wouldn’t miss it for the world. I never miss any of the big races,” he said.

As for this year’s St Leger, he feels Pyledriver will go close if he lasts out the extended mile and three-quarters.

“If he stays he will be a big factor in the race,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be certain he’d get a mile and six, but they have to go for it. It’s one of those years when you have to take your chance.”

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