Instructed by Waldorf, 2nd Viscount Astor, one of his most important patrons, Munnings painted, Saucy Sue Winning the Oaks, 1925, his only commission that depicts a horse race in progress.
Saucy Sue Winning the Oaks, 1925 is an icon of sporting art, even more remarkable since up until this date, few artists had attempted to portray the natural movement of a horse galloping. As early as 1882, with the publication of The Horse in Motion, photographers such as Edward Muybridge had revealed that all four legs of a horse are momentarily suspended off the ground during a galloping stride. In England, the artist Thomas Blinks (1853-1910) was one of the first sporting artists to paint the correct galloping action and often illustrated numerous horses in various positions in a single canvas. Munnings himself early in his career attempted several times to portray galloping horses but with little success.
Munnings in the second volume of his autobiography, describes the commission: 'I remember being in Hampshire during the hop-picking season of 1925; the weather was breaking as usual, and I was due at Manton to paint Saucy Sue, Lord Astor's Oaks winner of that year ... Saucy Sue, a beautiful mare with a white blaze. For two days, morning and afternoon, I worked on a study of the mare in the yard, staying the night at Manton. The study was a slightly three-quarter side-view - not quite a profile - as the final picture was to be of Saucy Sue galloping home alone past the winning post at Epsom. Then, for many hours, I worked in the stable yard, making studies of the mare - one with saddle and number-cloth complete, the others with her head and neck outstretched. As I stayed the night with Alec Taylor, I was able to see her pass me on the Downs at a gallop next morning' (see A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, pp. 124-5).
Described by her owner Lord Astor as 'a hard puller with a devastating stride', Saucy Sue, was an exceptional filly and a top class race horse. She was bred by Lord Astor in 1922, and foaled by Swynford out of Good and Gay by Bayardo. Saucy Sue was the top rated 2 year old in 1924 even without giving credit for any sex allowance. She won the Lavant Stakes at Goodwood and the Bretby and Criterion Stakes at Newmarket, her only three races that year, all with great ease. As a three year old she had seven more races winning the first four but then being beaten twice before finishing her career with a final win. She was thought so good to begin with that she was as short as 4/1 on for the first Classic of her career, the 1,000 guineas at Newmarket. Ridden by Frank Bullock, she won by 6 lengths from another Astor horse Miss Gadabout, with the Aga Khan's Firouze Mahal in third. Like all of Astor's horses Saucy Sue was trained at Manton by Alec Taylor.
In her second race, the Oaks at Epsom, she was 100/30 on and again beat Miss Gadabout, this time by 8 lengths, with Anthony de Rothschild's Riding Light third. Lord Astor later described how, 'She won the Oaks by about eight lengths in a canter, but Bullock, her jockey, told me confidientally after the race that she was so tired he could hardly keep her running straight and close to the rails' (ibid., p. 125).
At Royal Ascot she won the Coronation Stakes by 10 lengths at no less than 10/1 on, with only three others daring to turn out. At Goodwood she was 5/1 on in a field of three for the Nassau Stakes in which she gave the second 16lbs and won by 3 lengths. At that stage she was generally thought to be one of the great fillies, even though she only performed moderately (coming third) in her next two races, the Park Hill Stakes at Doncaster and the Royal Stakes at Ascot. It was believed that she may have begun to pull too hard but Saucy Sue did win her final race, the Atalanta Stakes at Sandown, quite easily over 1¼ miles.
In her career she won eight out of ten races, was third in the other two and won a total of £25,284.