Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

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Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Thomas Clarke on Sun May 27, 2012 5:33 pm

Saturday sees the 233rd running of the World's greatest horse race, the Derby. While much of the pre-race talk has focussed on Aidan O'Brien's potential superstar, Camelot, I thought I'd share my opinions on the best Derby winners of the last 50 years. I've not based my rankings purely on their Epsom performances, but have also strongly considered their overall careers, leading me to a top ten of:

1. Sea-Bird II (1965)
Just as the 1965 Gold Cup winner, Arkle, is the yardstick for jump horses, the 1965 Derby winner is the thoroughbred against which all others are measured. Sea-Bird II won a good Derby on the bridle, but better still was to come in the Arc, where he nonchalantly demolished arguably the best field ever assembled in Paris. Sea-Bird II did not contest as many big races as some of those below him on this list, but his victories came breathtakingly easily. The French colt remains Timeform's highest ever rated flat racehorse, and the greatest Derby winner of modern times.

2. Nijinsky (1970)
Vincent O'Brien's troublesome and difficult colt remains the only horse to win the Triple Crown since the war, proving that he was a freakish blend of speed and stamina. Nijinsky won a string of big races in his 3 year old campaign, and was never extended in any of them. His defeat in the Arc, the first of his career after 11 straight wins, was a huge shock, but the horse had been unwell and, given his wild personality, was probably over the top. Always piloted by Lester Piggott, Nijinsky had that rare ability to apparently accelerate twice in races, and was as talented a horse as ever took to the track.

3. Sea the Stars (2009)
Beaten on his debut as a 2yo, STS would never again lose in his 9 race career. As a 3 year old he won 6 consecutive Group One races from 1m to 12f, an achievement unmatched by any other top horse. A physically striking horse, STS had an annoying habit of just doing enough to win, and never really extending himself. Still, why would he do more than he had to, when what he did was always good enough. Blisteringly fast, consistent and versatile, we will never know for sure just how great he was, but it would certainly have taken an exceptional horse from any era to get the better of him.

4. Mill Reef (1971)
A small horse, but classy, tough and supposedly very intelligent. A brilliant 2yo, he was champion horse as a 3&4 year old also, winning just about every big race available to him. The one exception was the 1971 Guineas, were the legendary miler Brigadier Gerard pipped him, but Mill Reef had more big days on the track than just about any other horse.

5. Shergar (1981)
The odds-on favourite's winning margin of 10 lengths in the Derby remains the greatest since records began, and is all the more staggering considering that the horse was reduced to a canter by the end. Even on grainy Youtube footage, Shergar's acceleration around Tattenham Corner still takes the breath away, while John Matthias, jockey of the runner up, famously said afterwards 'I thought I had achieved my life's ambition, only to notice another horse on the horizon'. Shergar went on to dominate rivals in the Irish Derby and King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, before surprisingly disappointing in the St Leger. His kidnapping and death was a very sad end for such a great horse.

6. Nashwan (1989)
Willie Carson rates him the best of his 4 winners, which is saying something when you consider he also rode the brilliant Troy. Nashwan is one of only 2 horses in the last 30 years to win the Guineas/Derby double, and he also added the Eclipse and King George to prove his versatility. Big, clumsy, but very fast.

7. Galileo (2001)
A brilliant mile and a half horse, who has gone on to become one of Europe's finest sires. Powerful and strong, Galileo was that perfect blend of speed and stamina that you look for in a Derby horse. He dominated several talented rivals over 12f, and his colours were only lowered when dropped back in trip. A lovely statue of him morphed with Diomed (the first ever Derby winner) stands in Epsom town centre.

8. Lammtarra (1995)
Perhaps a controversial choice, as he only made 4 career starts, however he won them all, and his victories included the Derby, King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the Arc. His Derby win came from well off the pace, while he won the Arc from the front. Adaptable beyond what you'd expect from an inexperienced colt, he could well have been higher on this list if he had raced more.

9. Sinndar (2000)
Beaten only once in 8 starts, Sinndar won the Derby, Irish Derby and Arc as a 3 year old. His Derby win came after a titanic tussle with Sakhee (2001 Arc winner), while he ended Montjeu's career at Longchamp. A very fine horse who, like Galileo, was ideally suited to 12f.

10. Sir Ivor (1968)
Although he lost several races in his career, on his day Sir Ivor was electric. A Guineas/Derby double winner, Sir Ivor had to be held up, but possessed as lethal a finishing burst as we have seen. His classic wins were eye-catchingly impressive, and he displayed his brilliance at both 2 and 3 years.


Next Best
Obviously, in 50 years, there have been many great horses not already mentioned. Troy, Generous, Royal Palace and The Minstrel would all be worthy additions, and you could make a strong case for any of them. On top of that, you have the great horses who failed to win the Derby, most notably Dancing Brave, El Gran Señor and Dubai Millennium.

All greats, and Saturday will see another name adding to the roll of honour. If it happens to be Camelot, then he will already be making inroads onto the list of true legends of the racetrack.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  mossbags on Tue Jun 12, 2012 9:08 pm

Brilliant stuff TC. I would have Sea the Stars first myself but the like of Sea bird and Nyjinski were before my time. Interesting to note that John Oxx has two in your top ten, both fully deserved too. Sinndar is underrated by many but no horse wins 2 Derbys and an Arc without being absolutely top drawer. Great to see Laamtara there too, another proper racehorse. It is disappointing we didn't see more of him I suppose but what we did see was absolutely extraordinary.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Thomas Clarke on Sat Jun 01, 2013 9:08 am

TC is off to Epsom Downs today to see if Dawn Approach can go some way to adding his name to this list of Derby legends.

Being on at 5/2, I think and hope that he will, although I do worry that he may find himself unbalanced coming round Tattenham Corner, this putting pay to any hope of him seeing the trip. If the favourite doesn't win it, the rest look a much of a muchness, although the German Chopin could be a very lively outsider.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  OMAR on Sat Jun 01, 2013 10:10 am

Thomas Clarke wrote:TC is off to Epsom Downs today to see if Dawn Approach can go some way to adding his name to this list of Derby legends.

Being on at 5/2, I think and hope that he will, although I do worry that he may find himself unbalanced coming round Tattenham Corner, this putting pay to any hope of him seeing the trip. If the favourite doesn't win it, the rest look a much of a muchness, although the German Chopin could be a very lively outsider.

Enjoy - it can't compete with Monaghan fleadh u-12 ceili band competition, but each to his own.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Thomas Clarke on Mon Jun 03, 2013 10:12 pm

Dawn Approach will obviously not be making my list, nor will, I suspect, Ruler of the World make it at any stage in the future, despite his fairly comfortable victory on Saturday.

Dawn Approach's antics were a real surprise, and it is unusual to see a top horse so out of control for the first mile. I think that Aidan O'Brien had one of his finest hours tactically. In 2009, he tried to gallop Sea the Stars into the ground, only for that great to cruise past Fame and Glory in the straight. This time, they decided to let the favourite beat himself, crawling through the first half of the race, and driving DA mad with frustration at the slow pace. It worked perfectly, and one wonders just in what shape DA will come out of this race.

How good is the winner? Well, he's only had 3 races and is currently an unbeaten derby winner, so there could certainly be scope for improvement. Personally, I think the best we can say is that he was the best of a middling enough bunch, and that he'll face tougher tests as the season goes on.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Boxtyeater on Tue Jun 11, 2013 7:58 pm

The death has taken place of Sir Henry Cecil at the age of 70. Champion trainer on 10 occasions he will always be remembered for his incredible run of success with the now legendary Frankel. A modest man, despite his pedigree, he will be remembered as one of the giants of the flat racing game.

He was in failing health of late and therefore I have selected a photo of him in his better days for posterity on this forum. God speed you Henry....

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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Thomas Clarke on Wed Jun 12, 2013 11:42 am

Very true, Boxty.  Despite the wealth and breeding (his own, that is), he seemed to be in touch with the ordinary man.  Humble and extremely talented.  A sad loss, but what an indelible legacy to have left behind in the shape of the peerless Frankel, the greatest horse ever to take to a racetrack.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Thomas Clarke on Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:09 pm

Very impressive win today for Australia. The horse travelled well throughout, and looked the winner a long, long way from home. He idled a bit when he hit the front, but Joseph O'Brien didn't have to do very much on him. He hasn't cracked my top 10 yet, but I suspect that this isn't the last big race that the horse will win this year.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Boxtyeater on Sat Jun 07, 2014 10:29 pm

I had 2X€50 bets today, last night actually and of course Wexford upset the apple-cart in the GAA accum..
On the bright side I did Cirrus Des Aigles with Australia to turn a bit of profit. Very impressive from Australia, but O'Brien had plugged the horse strongly on radio here during the week. Hinted that he was "probably" better than Camelot. Impressive stuff from Aidan but he's getting the machinery handed to him.
Joseph did enough on the horse, but Australia has a tremendous galloping stride that no doubt comes with his lineage. A top day for all associated with Ballydoyle.


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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Loyal2TheRoyal on Sat Jun 07, 2014 11:00 pm

Galileo will dominate the Derby for the next 10 years. Australia was the obvious choice today on pedigree and the speed he showed in the Guineas was impressive. His dam Ouija Board was a special mare.

Off the top of my head Galileo has sired Frankel, Australia, Ruler of the World, Rip Van Winkle, Teofilo, New Approach, Magician, Cape Blanco and Soldier of Fortune. He has assumed the position as best sire in Europe left vacant by his own sire Sadler's Wells.

Coolmore have now won the last 4 runnings of the race but I suspect Australia will not be flash in the pan that Ruler of the World was, will carry his form through to the end of the year unlike Camelot and will remain injury free unlike Pour Moi.

He looks to have more speed than all of those as well. If he were mine, I would leave the Irish Derby to one of his stablemates and aim him at Eclipse, the Juddmonte and the Irish Champion.
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Re: Epsom Derby winners of the last 50 years

Post  Thomas Clarke on Sun Jun 08, 2014 12:38 am

Loyal2TheRoyal wrote:
Coolmore have now won the last 4 runnings of the race but I suspect Australia will not be flash in the pan that Ruler of the World was, will carry his form through to the end of the year unlike Camelot and will remain injury free unlike Pour Moi.

He looks to have more speed than all of those as well. If he were mine, I would leave the Irish Derby to one of his stablemates and aim him at Eclipse, the Juddmonte and the Irish Champion.

Pour Moi had serious speed, but we only really got to see it once in a big race. Camelot was fast, but didn't quicken like Australia does.

I agree about leaving the Irish Derby, but Magnier is a big supporter of the race, and it looks a likely next stop. I'd be looking at races like the Eclipse, King George, Irish Champion Stakes and Arc. I know the King George might be pushing his luck a bit as it comes just 3 weeks after the Eclipse, but he looks very comfortable at 12f and it's a great race to win.
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