The Derby, the Flat race that everyone involved in the sport of horse racing dreams of winning.
The inaugural winner of the Blue Riband was Diomed, back in 1780, since when most of the greatest horses in history have added their name to the roll of honour.
The record number of wins by a jockey will take some passing. Lester Piggott holds that distinction, having won a record nine Derbies between 1954 and 1983.
Shergar’s was the greatest Derby performance in terms of winning margin was (1981), when he romped home by 10 lengths, although the track record is held by the 2010 winner Workforce, who did it in 2 mins 31.33 seconds for the same trainer, Sir Michael Stoute.
Winning performances are always subjective. Did you back the winner? Was it run in a fast time? What were the conditions like? What was the opposition like? Was it visually impressive?
Here, we’ll look at five that would get my vote as the best since the turn of the century.
For all his monumental achievements at stud, let’s not forget that the late son of Sadler’s Wells was a brilliant performer in his own right.
Romping to a 14-length success on his debut in a Leopardstown maiden in October 2000, he enjoyed an almost flawless three-year-old campaign.
He breezed home by more than three lengths from the eventual St Leger winner Milan in the Listed Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown, to get his Classic campaign off to a flyer.
The Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial, over same course and distance, followed. His level of form was already high by the time he turned up at Epsom Downs, where he went off as the 11/4 joint favourite with the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Golan, who had won the 2,000 Guineas.
The market had it spot on for once, with both of the leading players coming home first and second, Galileo leading just over two out and lengthening impressively to win by 3½l under Mick Kinane.
It was a magnificent performance to get the better of what looked a top drawer field on paper, while it was also the widest winning margin for eight years.
Galileo went on to win both the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, before retirement. He went on to a stellar career at stud and, of the many Group 1 winners he sired, he could name the great Frankel that number.
High Chaparral (2002)
They’re like the buses just down the road in London… sometimes you get one great performance followed by another!
This great performance just happened to be by a colt who came from the same stable as Galileo, that of Aidan O’Brien.
He’d posed his intent with high class juvenile campaign that saw him narrowly beaten on debut but then good enough to win the Group 1 Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster (1m, heavy) by this third start.
That set things up for his Classic campaign. Talk of a 2,000 Guineas tilt was ruled out, with connections feeling he’d need further. They got it spot on.
Like Galileo, he went the route of the Listed Ballysax Stakes (won by seven lengths) and the Group 3 Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (won by one length), both over 1m2f, before heading to Epsom
His trainer felt he’d be peaking at the right time and he showed how well he knew the colt, who produced a career-best on the day when it mattered most.
Stable companion Hawk Wing had just routed a field of milers in the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury and was a warm order to make a successful step up in trip under Mick Kinane.
However, although he stayed, he was outstayed by High Chaparral, who travelled well throughout under Johnny Murtagh and responded well when pressed by the fellow Coolmore-owned companion to open up two lengths on him as they met the rising ground, winning well. There were 12-lengths back to Moon Ballad in third place.
It had been a superb effort and he could afford to run to a level a few pounds inferior when following up in the Irish Derby, before June was out. He later added two Breeders’ Cup Turfs to his CV (the second a dead heat), plus an Irish Champion Stakes, while he was third to Dalakhani in his only attempt at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, in his four-year-old campaign.
Sea The Stars (2009)
Until Frankel came along, many good judges had this horse down as the best they had seen. There was no hype about those claims, as Sea The Stars was truly one of the great thoroughbred performers we have seen.
In total, he raced nine times, winning eight of them and only being beaten on his debut in a Curragh maiden as a juvenile in July 2008.
Having won his maiden at Leopardstown, he was pitched in at Group 2 level in the Beresford Stakes, which he improved to win in the style of a horse who would ultimately want further.
He didn’t get that immediately, showing he had Classic speed by winning the 2,000 Guineas decisively on his first start at three. In itself, that was a brilliant effort and it was one that he matched at Epsom a month later.
There was no surprise that he was keen early at Epsom. He had speed and he wanted to go a stride quicker but Mick Kinane’s wonderful hands did the job of settling him and if there was any question over his stamina, his pilot showed absolutely no signs of it from atop.
Always handy, he went third three out, before heading the stable’s pacemaker Golden Sword and going on to lead entering the final furlong. Always in control from that point, he beat the subsequent easy Irish Derby winner Fame And Glory by just under 2l in a memorable performance.
He went on to get even better, winning the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes (officially his career-best) and was retired to stud after a brilliant win in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
He stands at Gilltown Stud for a fee of 150,000euros, having sired the likes of Crystal Ocean, Stradivarius, Taghrooda, Harzand and current top miler Baaeed.
Although his overall record compared to some in this list could be described as inconsistent (he won four of his nine races), the Derby-winning performance by Workforce was as red hot as the day on which is was recorded.
A Goodwood maiden winner at two, he was beaten in the Group 2 Dante Stakes, York’s leading Derby trial, by Aidan O’Brien-trained Cape Blanco.
No horse had ever won the Derby, having tried and failed in the Dante and so, as people do with these feats of history, he was slightly overlooked come the big day because of the belief in there being some sort of hoodoo on such runners.
What people perhaps failed to take into account was that his Dante run was still going on for a stone and a half better performance than his debut and that his pedigree hinted he’d be even better over 1m4f. So it proved.
I have attended many race meetings and this was the hottest day’s racing I have ever attended. It was 30 degrees, we were all dressed in the usual formal attire and it was extremely uncomfortable.
By race time it was virtually unbearable, with no respite from the heat, whether indoors or out and it was no surprise that a number of the Derby field sweated up.
The Aidan O’Brien-trained Jan Vermeer was sent off as favourite but his goose was cooked some way out. 9/2 chance Rewilding, who went on to win a Sheema Classic and a Prince Of Wales’s Stakes, put in good performance, while the runner-up was a surprise in 100/1 chance At First Sight, the least fancied of the trio of O’Brien runners.
He was simply there to set the pace but he stayed on well and nothing, except the winner, could get by. As for Workforce, his effort was sublime.
Making ground as he liked over three furlongs out, he continued to progress until taking the lead over a furlong out. Quickly asserting under Ryan Moore, he put an astonishing seven lengths between himself on the field, staying on strongly on the fast ground to win easily. It was jaw dropping to be there.
Defeat in the King George and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes followed, before he was given a break and brought back to win the Arc in a battle royle with Nakayama Festa.
Kept on for a four-year-old campaign, he won the Group 3 Brigadier Gerard Stakes but was then second in both the Eclipse and the King George, bowing out after finishing down the field when trying to defend his Arc crown.
Golden Horn (2015)
To be described by Frankie Dettori as “probably the best horse I’ve ridden” is just about as good a testimony as any horse could wish for and that was the case with this son of Cape Cross.
In nine races, he only found two opponents to better him. Arabian Queen did so when he had an off day in the International at York, while Found did the same when he was also below par in what proved to be his final race, the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Otherwise, he was just about foot perfect.
His Nottingham maiden win on his only start as a juvenile did not appear to have greatness stamped all over it. However, improvement was rapid.
On winning the Listed Fielden Stakes on his reappearance at three, Dettori suggested the Dante would be worth targeting. Trainer John Gosden already had a leading contender for that and the Derby, in Jack Hobbs.
In fact, Dettori rode the latter in the Dante itself but could only watch on from second as William Buick partnered Golden Horn to Group 2 success. It was a game changer.
Frankie was not going to have that again and was back on board when the Anthony Oppenheimer-owned colt lined up at Epsom on June 6, 2015.
By now, he was 13/8 favourite and Buick had had to make the switch to the 4/1 second favourite Jack Hobbs. Bookies and punters alike were making it a two-horse race. As it turned out, it was really all about one horse, Golden Horn.
Ridden with restraint by Dettori (he was keen early on), he had a good sight of what was going on ahead of him before his jockey pulled him out and asked him to get to work with three furlongs to travel.
The impact was gradual but sustained until he hit the front at the furlong pole and went well clear to win decisively, by an official margin of 3½l from his stablemate Jack Hobbs. He’d beaten another top class performer by further than his York success and that underlined just how good a performance this was.
Still improving, he thrashed the Eclipse field by a similar margin next time, in what proved to be a career-best. Then, aside from those two reverses, he won both the Irish Champion Stakes and, brilliantly, the Arc.
He now stands at Dalham Hall Stud.
Five fabulous Derby performances of the 21st Century
1 Workforce (2010)
2 High Chaparral (2002)
3= Galileo (2002); Sea The Stars (2009); Golden Horn (2015)