This advent blog comes from Museum friend, Nick Pemberton.
We might all dream of a white Christmas but surely no one would wish for snow in June on Derby day. It has of course happened before - Bloomsbury’s 1839 Derby win was said to have been run in a snowstorm and there had been snow falling on the day of the famous 1867 Derby, won by Hermit. And in 1974, snow was once again an unexpected sight on the Epsom Downs, but this time in the form of Snow Knight, the shock 50/1 winner.
Snow Knight (1971) was by Firestreak out of Snow Blossom. The good-looking Firestreak had initially been trained by Sir Gordon Richards and proved to be a smart handicapper. His best win would come later in the 1960 City and Suburban Handicap at Epsom when trained by Peter Nelson and ridden by Lester Piggott. As a yearling, Snow Knight was picked out at the Newmarket sales by Peter Nelson’s wife and was purchased on behalf of Mrs Sharon Phillips, wife of a Canadian lawyer, for 5200gns.
Sent into training with Nelson at Lambourn, Snow Knight won twice as a two-year-old out of five starts. He was not obviously top class at this stage and in his final start was only eighth behind the Vincent O’Brien trained hotpot Apalachee in the Observer Gold Cup. Winning the 1974 classics was supposed to have been a formality for Apalachee but he was unexpectedly retired with a suspected respiratory problem after finishing only third in the 2000 Guineas.
Meanwhile as a three-year-old Snow Knight was placed behind Lady Beaverbrook’s Bustino in both the Sandown Classic Trial and Lingfield Derby Trial. In the Derby itself he was friendless in the market at 50/1, but ridden by Brian Taylor he proved to be a true stayer and won the race comfortably by two lengths. Bustino, who would go on to win the St Leger, was only fourth.
Snow Knight was then only seventh to the great French filly Dahlia in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes and third, again to Dahlia, in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup at York. He never raced again in England having shortly afterwards been sold to a Canadian syndicate including E.P. Taylor, the breeder of Northern Dancer.
Initially disappointing in his races that autumn in Canada, Snow Knight blossomed when switched to US trainer Mack Miller the following year. In 1975, as a four-year-old, he won the prestigious Manhattan Handicap, the Man o’War Stakes and finally the Canadian International (with Dahlia well beaten) back at Woodbine. He was voted Champion Male Turf Horse in the Eclipse Awards that year.
Snow Knight was retired to Taylor’s Windfields Farm but only had limited success as a stallion. He did though sire Awaasif, who was the dam of Snow Bride, winner of the 1989 Oaks (on the disqualification of Aliysa). Snow Bride was the dam of the great, unbeaten Derby and Arc winner Lammtarra.
So even if the weather outside is frightful, we can all take comfort in recalling that glorious June day when Snow Knight triumphed in the Derby, the greatest race of them all.