Mill Reef…brings to mind a tropical paradise in the Caribbean. Images of white sandy beaches & the rush of the waves hitting the shore bring about a peaceful feeling. World renowned philanthropist and a man of enormous wealth, Paul Mellon of Rokeby Stables in Upperville, VA, thought those same things.
Since the founding of the Mill Reef Club in 1947 in the West Indies, he maintained a residence there. Paul Mellon thought so very highly of his vacation get-away that he named one of his own Virginia bred thoroughbreds Mill Reef.
Mill Reef, foaled in 1968, was a son of Never Bend and out of Milan Mill by Princequillo. He was a bright bay with a long pastern. It was thought that because of the long pastern that he would be much better suited to run turf races in Europe rather than the dirt courses in America.
Mill Reef was sent to Kingsclere in England as a two year old to be trained by Paul Mellon’s young trainer, Ian Balding. Mill Reef had exceptional talent and was a class above the other horses in the stable at that time. He was developing into a world-class middle-distance racehorse.
Mill Reef’s debut in the Salisbury Stakes in Salisbury was phenomenal. He beat out the previous winner, Fireside Chat, by four lengths. He went on to the Coventry Stakes at Royal Ascot and won there by seven lengths. He went on to win many other races such as the Gimcrack Stakes, Dewhurst Stakes, Greenham Stakes, Epsom Derby, Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Eclipse Stakes, Prix Ganay, and even the Coronation Cup, which was his last race.
In preparation for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, a serious tragedy struck. During a routine gallop, he stumbled and shattered his foreleg. He went through an operation which saved his life but ended his racing career. He went on to become a standing stallion at The National Stud in Newmarket, England. He had a hugely successful stud career before his untimely death in 1986.
Mill Reef received many awards in his honor. In 1971 he was named the European Horse of the Year, as well as, the English 3 Year Old Champion Colt. He won the English Champion Older Horse in 1972 and also became the leading sire in Great Britain and Ireland in 1978 and 1987. He has a life-size statue at The National Stud in Newmarket, under which he is buried. The Mill Reef Stakes are named in his honor at the Newbury Racecourse, as well.
Inscribed beneath his statue in Newmarket:
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.