Defeated by the Derby

3rd June 2013

Dawn Approach’s performance in the Derby on Saturday, while shocking to watch, was not entirely unprecedented. Throughout it’s 233 year history, the Derby has seen highly touted horses confirm their talent with championship displays, but the race has also found out many excellent horses of unsuitable stamina or temperament.


In 1870, Macgregor was sent off at 4/9 as the shortest price favourite thus far in Derby history. He had won the 2000 Guineas with supreme ease, and had even proved he stayed with a win in a twelve furlong trial race at Bath, but in the big event the writing was on the wall three furlongs out and the crowd could scarcely believe their eyes as he finished a well beaten fourth.


The 1890 2000 Guineas winner Surefoot was also rated a ‘sure thing’, and sent off at 1/2 with his trainer supremely confident. Unfortunately, his connections had not reckoned on how the colt would handle the crowd and excitement, and his temperament scuppered any chance he had of winning. In the race he pulled fiercely and tried to savage his nearest competitors, before starting to fade at Tattenham Corner. Although well beaten, Surefoot then put in an extraordinary rally and missed out on third place by the narrowest of margins.


In 1907, Slieve Gallion, the 8/13 favourite, continued the trend of speedy Guineas winners failing to stay in the Derby. As he tired he veered sharply to his right and in fact finished the race almost underneath the grandstand, though he kept fighting the entire way up the straight.


One of the more extraordinary efforts came in 1920 from Tetratema, a son of The Tetrach who had won the 2000 Guineas. Sent off the 3/1 favourite, he led from the start and raced away at top speed with Abbots Trace alongside. The two horses descended the hill flat out before Tetratema’s suspect stamina gave way and he faded badly to finish towards the rear of the field. The colt soon redeemed his reputation and became one of the outstanding sprinters of his era.


Big Game’s effort in 1942 strongly mirrored that of Dawn Approach’s, in that he fought for his head in the early part of the race, appeared to settle for a short time, then pulled his way to lead the field two furlongs out before tiring badly and finishing fifth. An excellent winner of the 2000 Guineas, he later proved that he did stay at least ten furlongs (when racing with more restraint) by winning the Champion Stakes.


Tudor Minstrel was perhaps the most famous example of a Guineas winner coming unstuck in the Derby. One of the most impressive winners of the Newmarket Classic, Tudor Minstrel was highly touted for the 1947 Derby by some racing journalists, and so was sent off at 4/7 by an excited crowd. Although thought to stay based on pedigree (his sire, grandsire and damsire were all Derby winners), Tudor Minstrel resented having his brilliant speed blunted and refused to settle throughout the race. Although he led turning into the straight, he had no more to give three furlongs from home and faded to finish fourth.


Other Derby favourites that failed to stay were 1811 Guineas winner Trophonius (finished last behind Phantom), 1829 Guineas and Newmarket Stakes winner Patron (who looked sure to win two furlongs out before tiring to seventh) and Tournament in 1857 (who was in trouble before Tattenham Corner and later reverted to sprinting, winning the Stewards Cup).


Perhaps one of the most unlucky Derby losers was Fairway in 1928 who was defeated not through a lack of stamina, but after being surrounded and mobbed by an over excited crowd on his way to the start. People plucked souvenir hairs from his tail, and the poor horse was greatly distressed and dishevelled when he was finally left alone.


Despite their defeats in the Derby, many of these horses did in fact return to form and win top class races under more suitable conditions. Given a chance to recover from his antics, there is no reason why Dawn Approach cannot follow their example and restore his reputation later in the season.

By Alice Kay