- Rewind to 1985
Teleprompter wins the "Miracle Million"
The Arlington Million may no longer be the richest horse race in the world, but it is still steeped in history and has its 28th running at the weekend. It has been won by some famous names in racing, including "America's Horse" John Henry in 1981 and 1984, and back in 1985 a British raider by the name of Teleprompter made off with the pot and his win was the catalyst for the revamping of the racing landscape.
Teleprompter was a five-year-old gelding and at that time most top-class races in Britain only allowed colts and entires to race. The heroic efforts of Bill Watts' charge changed the face of racing.
Teleprompter rose to prominence from humble beginnings, climbing through the handicap ranks before winning the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot in 1984. With no stud value on account of his status as a gelding, Teleprompter's value was as a racehorse and his front-running style won him a legion of followers. He was viewed as a specialist miler and the nagging doubt when the plan was hatched to send him to Chicago was the extra two furlongs he would have to race over.
Watts and big-race partner Tony Ives were worried about Teleprompter's chances being compromised by the prospect of the American runners taking the initiative from the gate and forcing him to come from behind and the local punters felt the same as he was sent off an unconsidered 14/1 chance. But the fears over a rapid pace were unfounded, as Teleprompter was allowed to slide up the rail and once in front Ives slackened the pace in a bid to preserve his charge's stamina. It proved to be a tactical masterstroke as Ives set a steady pace before setting sail for home turning into the straight.
Teleprompter put a couple of lengths into his rivals and looked to have the race won, but as he headed into the final furlong the petrol tank started to empty and the favourite Greinton came with a charging run that looked sure to snatch victory. But Teleprompter had courage in abundance and rallied to take the race by three quarters of a length.
"The Arlington Million was an amazing day," Watts said. "It was a very big day and a big operation to get the horse over to America, as the travel then was not quite the same as it is now. It was the most amazing performance."
The victory added to wins in Great Britain, France and Ireland and for a time it made him Britain's top money-earner - but it also led to a change in the schedule. Prior to his victory, geldings were prevented from running in Group Ones but such was the interest in Teleprompter the rules were rewritten to open up all races apart from the Classics to geldings.
"Until after he won the Arlington Million, he couldn't run in Group Ones, but then they opened up to him," Watts said. "Some months after they changed the rules because of him. Since then, geldings have been allowed to run in Group Ones, all bar the Classics.
"He was the one who opened it up for geldings. He was a marvellous horse with a fantastic temperament."
But it so nearly all did not happen as a month before the race, fire razed the Arlington grandstand to the ground. The tireless efforts of all those concerned with the Illinois track ensured the race took place and it was dubbed the "Miracle Million" as hordes flocked to watch the race from a tented village.
"The place had been burned down and had tents where the stands should be," Ives said. "It all added to the occasion. For us to go there and win was incredible."
And it was appropriate that the efforts of the track were matched by a horse that changed the racing scene.
Teleprompter won 11 races in all and enjoyed a fine retirement at owner Lord Derby's stud until the age of 23.