Carlo Vittadini

Owner of champion racehorses

Carlo Vittadini, banker and racehorse owner: born Milan, Italy 26 April 1915; married 1947 Henrietta Clerici (died 2002; three sons, two d aughters): died Milan 2 September 2007.

Carlo Vittadini owned one of the two racehorses who duelled themselves into submission in what is still remembered as the race of the 20th century. The horse was Grundy; the race one of Britain's finest, the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. Grundy vs Bustino went down as one of the most evocative of conflicts on the turf. Grundy was the Derby winner, Bustino the year-old hero of the St Leger and Coronation Cup.

Bustino's trainer Dick Hern took the provocative step of saddling two pacemakers to run the sting out of Grundy, and the strategy all but broke Vittadini's chestnut colt. Bustino took up the running with half a mile to go, yet looked sure to be beaten when Grundy, under strong driving from the saddle, went by with a furlong to run.

Bustino stirred almost to reach the front again, and yet in the final 50 yards the relentless Grundy was just the stronger and held on by half a length. The two principals finished five lengths clear of Dahlia, who had won the King George in the previous two seasons. Moreover, in posting a winning time of two minutes and 26.98 seconds, Grundy set a record for the race that stands to this day.

Bustino never ran again, and Grundy only once more, but Vittadini had already enjoyed many salad days on the track. Grundy was top-rated two year old on the 1974 Free Handicap after four straight wins and the following season won the Irish 2,000 Guineas, the Derby at Epsom, and then the Irish Sweeps Derby before his conflict with Bustino.

Vittadini was fortunate enough to own a number of other top-class runners. They included three winners of the Derby Italiano in Ortis, Ardale and Orange Bay, all trained in Italy by Mario Benetti. Orange Bay later joined Grundy's trainer, Peter Walwyn, in Lambourn, and won Royal Ascot's Hardwicke Stakes. Other high-class performers included Queen Anne Stakes winner Brook, who became an influential sire in Italy, and champion two-year-old Habat.

In fact, had Patch not gone down by a head to Val de l'Orne in the 1975 Prix du Jockey-Club at Chantilly, Vittadini would have been in the illustrious position of having won the four major European Derbys in the same year. Vittadini, always the gentleman, maintained that the short head between Val de l'Orne and Patch would only have been greater had the winner not sustained an injury in the closing strides.

Carlo Vittadini was born in Milan into a family with strong farming interests as well as a pharmaceutical business. He earned degrees in medicine and chemistry in Milan but later sold the pharmaceutical business. He was to make his name in the Italian banking community with Banca Agricola Milanese, rising to become chairman in the early 1980s.

His sporting interests seemed to evolve from those of his father, Angelo Vittadini, who served in the cavalry for the Italian army. Carlo enjoyed hunting and also rode as an amateur jockey, winning 30 races on the flat before turning his attentions to bloodstock breeding by establishing his own stud near Lake Maggiore.

Spending trips to Britain – beginning in 1956 to Doncaster – were to become the norm due to the competing power of the Dormello region stud farms. It was on one of those visits that a friendship began with bloodstock agent Keith Freeman which paid many dividends for both men. It did not take long for Freeman, a purist among pedigree experts, to unearth a nugget. Exar, bought for 1,900 guineas, became the first imported horse to land the Gran Premio d'Italia-Gran Premio di Milano double, an achievement Vittadini and Benetti were to repeat with another import, Accrale. Later, it was Freeman who bought a youngster for 11,000 guineas that was to become Grundy.

The Vittadini name lingered in British racing into the 1980s, although after Quexioss won three races in Britain in 1987 with the trainer Henry Cecil, the Italian's name vanished from the list of winning owners. However, he did retain horses in France and Italy, and continued attending the races until around three years ago.

Responsibility for managing the racing and breeding affairs at the family's Azienda Agricola Oriano was handed to Vittadini's daughter, Franca. She inherited the Corinthian spirit espoused by her father, proving herself a talented amateur jockey and winning the prestigious ladies' Diamond race at Ascot's King George race day no fewer than four times.

Tony Smurthwaite

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