Although Vincent O’Brien secured his first Derby win in 1962 the race will always be remembered for what happened as the 26 runner field made their decent towards Tattenham Corner. Stephen Wallis at the Museum takes a look at the dramatic events which resembled the Grand National.
Seven tumble at the Derby as O’Brien records his first triumph
The Derby is the 3-year-old thoroughbreds' ultimate challenge and the favourite for the 1962 race was the Dick Hern trained Hethersett ridden by 45 year old Harry Carr. However, the world’s premier class race was considered a very open contest with no colt standing out after the early season trials.
Hethersett had won the Derby trial at Brighton, a course similar to Epsom, by an authoritative 5 lengths showing a significant burst of speed up the hill, to beat the Dewhurst Stakes winner River Chanter. Although there were only three runners, the win propelled the colt to the head of the Epsom betting market. The powerful bay, standing at just over 16 hands, was impeccably bred, his sire Hugh Lupus had won the Irish 2000 Guineas, Hardwicke Stakes(1956), the Champion Stakes (1956) and 2nd in the Irish Derby, but had missed the Derby in 1955 when he injured himself the day before the race.
The 2000 Guineas had been won by the 100/6 outsider Privy Councillor but he was not in the Epsom field. Of the others who featured on the Rowley Mile, the Derby runners included the runner up Romulus, 5th placed High Noon, the northern hope who had also won the Craven Stakes, and Escort the unplaced 2000 Guineas favourite.
Subsequent trials had seen Jack Jarvis’s Silver Cloud win the Chester Vase while Pindaric (a son of the 1953 Derby winner Pinza) triumphed in the Lingfield Derby Trial. The Harry Wragg trained Miralgo finished 3rd in the Chester race and was beaten by a neck by Pindaric at Lingfield . Back in October Miralgo had won the most significant two year old race, the Timeform Gold Cup over a mile at Doncaster which saw Hethersett 5th and the Irish colt Larkspur 6th.
The latter formed part of a dual challenge, with Sebring, from the Master of Ballydoyle Vincent O’Brien. Sebring, an Aureole bay, was O’Brien’s first string though the colt had disappointed when only 6th in the Irish 2,000 Guineas. Meanwhile, the little Larkspur, he only stood 15h 2, (a son of 1954 Derby winner Never Say Die) had easily won his preliminary race at Leopardstown with stable jockey Pat Glennon on board. Despite this performance stable jockey Glennon from Melbourne decided to stick with Sebring. The ride on Larkspur went to fellow Aussie Neville Sellwood, who at the time had been riding for Alec Head in France.
Whilst on the Gallic theme their challenge centred on the François Mathet trained Le Cantilien a firm ground specialist who had finished second in the Prix Lupin. Mathet had been successful in training Phil Drake to win the Derby in 1955.
The other significant development ahead of the race was the omission of the mercurial Lester Piggott, then 26 years old who had already won the blue riband on three occasions, but who was missing through suspension. Lester had transgressed at Lincoln racecourse on 30 May in a selling race and his mount Young Lochinvar went to the museum’s dear friend, Willie Snaith. The latter had been 2nd in the Chester Vase and went to post at 28/1.
Another last minute development nine days before the race was that Larkspur was receiving treatment for some swelling below his hock. In fact O’Brien’s second string spent two days box bound but recovered sufficiently to join the line up.
Starting prices for the 183rd Derby on Wednesday 6 June had Hethersett at 9/2, Le Cantilien and Miralgo at 8/1, High Noon and Silver Cloud at 100/7, Sebring and Pindaric at 100/6, Escort and Valentine 20/1 and Larkspur, Prince D’Amour, River Chanter and Crossen all at 22/1.
Racing on firm ground the tapes went up for the 26 runners at 3.27pm, the race having been delayed 7 minutes by Scobie Breasley’s mount Prince D’Amour who had been kicked at the start before being given the all clear by the on course vet.
Romancero, one of the 100/1 outsiders made all the early running and continued to do so as they approached Tattenham Corner. He led from Valentine, River Chanter, Miralgo and Sebring . Six furlongs from home where the course went downhill and bends to the left before Tattenham Corner the mayhem started. With the field about seven or eight abreast those on the outside began to drift inside to gain a better position. The mixture of some sub standard horses now beginning to tire in front, with others like the favourite Hethersett in behind, poised to make their move spelled disaster. As our own Willie Snaith said “the problem was there were six or seven horses who had no chance” Indeed seven of the runners were 100/1 shots.
Romulus and Crossen then clipped the heels of the backpeddlers and fell. With the two of them on the floor further fallers were inevitable and in the carnage that followed Hethersett, Pindaric, Changing Times, Persian Fantasy and King Canute II all fell. Even those that survived were affected as George Ramshaw, Spartan General ‘s jockey, who was behind the fallers was forced to jump over two of them and more significantly Neville Sellwood on Larkspur lost ground in the sudden confusion of the incident. Sellwood later remarked that “When Hethersett fell my horse had to scramble between his legs”
Many of the large crowd would not have been able to witness the unfolding drama as their view was obscured by the low hedge running alongside. However, when the field appeared, the spectators were astounded to see six riderless horses.
Doug Smith on Valentine led the field as they rounded Tattenham Corner, though he was soon overtaken in the straight by Jimmy Lindley on River Chanter. Going the easiest in behind was Sellwood on Larkspur, who flashed to the front two furlongs from the post and in an instant put the race beyond doubt. The eventual winning distance was only two lengths but the Irish chestnut had proved a comfortable victor ahead of the French duo of Arcor (40/1) and Le Cantilien. These were followed by Escort and O’Brien’s other entry Sebring while Willie Snaith’s mount Young Lochinvar was 18th of the nineteen finishers. Silver Cloud was last home.
Meanwhile back up the course the full extent of the damage was now emerging with jockeys strewn across the turf. Of the seven fallers the only jockey to escape unscathed was Pindaric's partner, Bobby Elliot. Of the others, the battlefield injuries revealed a broken leg and concussion for Stan Smith (Persian Fantasy), Walter Swinburn snr (Romulus) had a neck injury, Harry Carr (Hethersett) and Tommy Gosling (Changing Times) both suffered concussion whilst Frenchman Maurice Laurraun (Crossen) and Geoff Lewis (King Canute II) had arm injuries. All six of them were taken to the local hospital. King Canute II shattered his leg and was later humanely destroyed.
Interestingly there had only been 6 fallers at Grand National earlier that year though in total 15 horses failed to complete at Aintree.
After studying two amateur films of the incident the stewards decided that no jockey was responsible. It was most likely the result of bunching alongside a group of the outsiders stopping or suddenly slowing down.
These events distracted from the Larkspur’s comfortable victory. His cool lazy temperament would certainly have helped him on such a dramatic occasion. The little chestnut colt was purchased by his trainer Vincent O’Brien as a yearling for 12,200gns at the Dublin sales for his owner, American businessman Raymond Guest. The owner’s chocolate pale blue hoops and cap were later to be successfully worn by Sir Ivor in the 1968 Derby and L’Escargot as a dual winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup 1970 & 1971 and the Grand National in 1975.
Hethersett got his revenge over Larkspur in the St Leger which he won comprehensively by 4 lengths with the Derby winner only 6th. He later went on to sire the 1969 Derby winner Blakeney.
However, the saddest connection to the Derby Day drama came at Maisons-Lafitte on 7th November when Neville Sellwood was tragically killed when his horse Lucky Seven, slipped, rolled and fell on him.
On a happier note Vincent O’Brien went on to win a further five Derbies with some legendary horses though none of them featured in a race quite as sensational as 1962.
Let us hope this Saturday’s race provides plenty of excitement but without the rough and tumble of Wednesday 6 June 1962.