Epsom Derby Legends
Below we profile five horses, all of which won the Epsom Derby and gone on to even bigger and better things. We have selected from the last 40 years or so, rather than delve into the full Epsom Derby history in the hope of keeping the page familiar.
Winner of the Epsom Derby in 1971, this fantastic horse was trained by Ian Balding and as a two year old he was making almost as much news as Nijinsky was as a three year old. It was a time when horse racing was going through a purple patch and Mill Reef established himself in that brilliant year with three Group wins in the Coventry Stakes, the Gimcrack Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes.
Althoughg beaten by the equally legendary, Brigadier Gerard in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket, Mill Reef, went on to prove himself the best middle distance horse in the country when winning the Epsom Derby in sublime style a few weeks later.
He was not finished here either, after his Epsom triumph, he went on to win the Eclipse Strakes by 4 lengths at Sandown and then the King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes by 6 lengths at Ascot, before heading to France for his biggest challenge, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.
He was not expected to win the Arc, with most believing that the brilliant French filly, Pistol Packer was unbeatable, however, Mill Reef proved all doubters wrong and won comfortably by 3 lengths with Pistol Packer in second place.
He was kept in training as a four year old where it was hoped a rematch with Brigadier Gerard in the Eclipse Stakes would be the highlight of the season. After winning the Prix Ganay by over 10 lengths on his first outing as a 4 year old, Mill Reef looked better than ever, but then after winning the Coronation Cup at Epsom, he developed a virus and his racing schedule was postponed indefinately, thus missing out on the re-match with the Brigadier.
He was back to his best by the Autumn with the plan being a second tilt at the Arc, tragically however, Mill Reef shattered a forelock in training and never raced again. He was retired with a rating of 141 the sixth highest of all time for three year olds and above.
He became almost as successful at stud, fathering two Epsom Derby past winners in Shirley Heights in 1978 and Reference Point in 1987.
Despite never winning the Prix de lâArc de Triomphe, Nijinsky is still regarded by many as the greatest race horse of all time. Trained by Vincent OâBrien at Ballydoyle in Ireland, Nijinsky became the champion 2 year old in both Ireland and Britain in 1969, after winning all four of his Group starts, including the Dewhurst Stakes.
Huge things were expected of him as a three year old, where he had already been installed as the favourite for both 2000 Guineas and the Epsom Derby. He did not disappoint either, winning both races before going back home to Ireland and winning the Irish Derby.
With the equally legendary Lester Piggott on board, Nijinsky became regarded as unbeatable and proved the point in his next race, when taking the prestigious King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot against the older horses.
His connections were not sure at this stage of whether or not to run in him the Doncaster St Leger or the âArcâ as the two races were only a fortnight apart, but it was decided to run him in both, provided he came out of the St Leger in good order.
Needless to say he won the 1 mile 6 furlong, St Leger, becoming the first horse for 35 years to win the English Triple Crown â next stop was the Europeâs most prestigious race the Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
Nijinsky went off odds on favourite for the race but for inexplicable reasons, Lester Piggott, regarded as the best jockey in the world, misread the race and did not kick Nijinsky into gear until it was too late. In the event he was beaten by Sassafraz by a neck which at the time was the biggest shock ever known in racing.
His final race that year was the Champion Stakes, which he also lost, confirming to most that he was now beyond his incredible peak and was thus retired to stud.
As as a stallion, Nijinsky proved even more successful, siring 155 Stakes/Group winners, including Lamtarra, who won the 1995 Epsom Derby and the race that he failed to win the Arc de Triomphe.
Sea The Stars
Beaten only once in his very first race, Sea The Stars, is now regarded as having the greatest race record of any horse in modern thoroughbred racing. Although losing that first race there were genuine excuses, but he did not need any excuses after that. He won his next race quite comfortably before taking the Group 2 Beresford Stakes in his final race of his 2 year old season.
By the start of the following season, it was clear that Sea The Stars had wintered extremely well, he had grown and was decidedly more powerful, that said he was still reasonably unexposed when he entered his first race of the season the 2000 Guineas. Not thought to be in with anything better than an each way chance in the Derby betting, Sea The Stars went off at 8/1, but it was clear by the time that he entered the final furlong that he would win, which he duly did by 1 length from race favourite, Delegator.
Next up was the Epsom Derby, where he would meet the full depth of the Aidan OâBrien string of top quality 3 year olds from Ballydoyle. By the time of the race, Sea The Stars was being taken far more seriously than he was for the âGuineasâ however, he did not go off favourite, that honour went to Fame And Glory, the leading OâBrien colt in the race. Travelling like a dream throughout the race, Sea The Stars tracked the leaders until taking up the running a furlong and a half from the post and then stayed there with great ease. He won the race by nearly 2 lengths from Fame And Glory with OâBrien horses also filling, the next three places.
The Derby win launched Sea The Stars into superstardom, his trainer John Oxx had admitted that he had never trained a horse who was so good and jockey, Mick Kinane claimed that he had never ridden anything as good either.
Sea The Stars then went on to win three more Group One races, the Eclipse, The International and the Irish Champion Stakes before making his expected bid for glory in the Prix de lâArc de Triomphe in Paris.
By the time he had reached Paris, the 3 year old colt was being hailed as the greatest race horse ever seen, even better than the flying filly, Zarkava who triumphed in the âArcâ just a year before. Sea The Stars ran as expected, winning the race with considerable ease, producing a devastating turn of foot which carried him to victory by 2 lengths easing down.
As expected it was his last race, he is now at stud, where initial reports have confirmed amongst others that he has successfully bred with his Arc predecessor, Zarkava.