Until early 2013, Dancing Brave was the highest rated horse in the history of World Thoroughbred Rankings, which were first published in 1977. At that stage, his rating was downgraded from 141 to 138, as the result of a highly controversial ‘historical recalibration’, leaving Frankel, with a rating of 140, as the ‘new benchmark of equine excellence’. Nevertheless, having suffered defeat just twice in his ten-race career – in the Derby at Epsom, when given too much to do, and in the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita, when badly dehydrated – Dancing Brave was, unquestionably, one of the finest racehorses in living memory.
Owned, like Frankel, by Khalid Abdullah and trained by Guy Harwood, Dancing Brave won both starts as a juvenile, in 1985, in convincing style and went into winter quarters as favourite for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket the following May. Indeed, immediately after his debut win in the Dorking Stakes at Sandown, stable jockey Greville Starkey declared – fatefully, as it turned out – that he would ride Dancing Brave in the Derby.
That he did, having already partnered the Lyphard colt to emphatic victories in the Craven Stakes and the 2,000 Guineas on the first two starts of his three-year-old campaign; nevertheless, his injudicious ride at Epsom was to dog Starkey for the rest of his career. Despite stepping up to a mile and a half for the first time, Dancing Brave was sent off 2/1 favourite for the Epsom Classic, but misjudged his waiting tactics and, while his mount made up ground hand-over-fist in the closing stages, failed by half a length to overhaul Dante Stakes winner Shahrastani.
Starkey retained the ride on Dancing Brave in the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown the following month and resumed winning ways, easily beating by 4 lengths. However, in the
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot later in July – in which Dancing Brave took revenge on his erstwhile conqueror Shahrastani – Starkey was replaced by Pat Eddery. Indeed, Eddery kept the ride for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, in which Dancing Brave justified favouritism, swamping his rivals for pace in the closing stages to win by 1½ lengths. Dancing Brave was, justifiably, named European Horse of the Year for 1986.