The first British Classic to be screened on terrestrial television was the Derby at Epsom. Indeed, the 1931 renewal of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, staged on Wednesday, June 3, was the subject of the first television outside broadcast or, in other words, the first television programme broadcast live, on location, anywhere in the world. The Baird Television Company, under the auspices of John Logie Baird, the Scottish engineer who became known as ‘The Father of Television’, provided the pictures, which were transmitted by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) via the medium-wave radio transmitter at Brookmans Park, Hertfordshire. BBC Radio had first broadcast the Derby, along with the Grand National, in 1927, but the BBC Television Service was not officially launched until November, 1936.
In any event, the ‘King’s Birthday Derby’, run on the sixty-sixth birthday of King George V, was won by the 7/2 favourite, Cameronian, owned by J. Arthur Dewar, trained by Fred Darling and ridden by Freddie Fox. Television viewers were treated to a thrilling finish, with the 2,000 Guineas winner edging out well-fancied rivals Orpern and Sandwich by three-quarters of a length and the same. The following year, still some years before the advent of public television broadcasts, the Derby was shown, live, on closed-circuit television at the now demolished Metropole Kinema, in Victoria Street, central London.
The last horse to win the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas was the Galileo colt, Churchill, owned by
Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Susan Magnier and trained by Aidan O’Brien at Ballydoyle, Co. Tipperary. Named Cartier Champion Two-year-old Colt in 2016, after winning five of his six races, Churchill headed straight to Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas without a preparatory race. Ridden by regular partner Ryan Moore, Churchill was sent off 6/4 favourite and, having taken the lead over a furlong from home, stayed on well under pressure to beat Barney Roy – who stumbled badly on the downhill run into the famous ‘Dip’ – by a length.
Exactly three weeks later, Churchill lined up for the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh, in which he faced just five opponents, all of whom were officially rated at least 4lb inferior. Unsurprisingly, Churchill was sent off 4/9 favourite to win his second Classic and did so in some style. Patiently ridden by Ryan Moore, Churchill made progress on the wide outside inside the final quarter-of-a-mile before sweeping into the lead approaching the final furlong and extending his advantage all the way to the finish. He eventually passed the post two-and-a-half lengths ahead of second favourite Thunder Snow with another four-and-a-half lengths back to the third horse.
The five English Classic races are, from oldest to youngest, the St. Leger, Oaks, Derby, 2,000 Guineas and 1,000 Guineas. All five races have been in existence for over two centuries and each of them has thrown up its fair share of ‘shock’ winners, but none more so than Theodore who, in 1822, won the St. Leger at an eye-watering 200/1.
Since the turn of the twenty-first century, the St. Leger has also thrown up Encke at 25/1 in 2012 and Harbour Law at 22/1 in 2016. The fillies’ Classics, the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks, have also been won by two rank outsiders apiece, Homecoming Queen at 25/1 in 2012 and Billesdon Brook at 66/1 in 2018, in the case of the former, and Look Here at 33/1 in 2008 and Qualify at 50/1 in 2015, in the case of the latter. In recent years, though, the 2,000 Guineas has been the best English Classic for outsiders, producing Cockney Rebel at 25/1 in 2007, Mafki at 33/1 in 2010 and Night Of Thunder at 40/1 in 2014.
In Britain, and the rest of Europe, a Group One race is a horse race of the highest calibre, as designated by the European Pattern Committee. Group One races include some of the most prestigious, valuable and historic races in Britain, over distances between 5 furlongs and 2 miles 4 furlongs, on Grade One racecourses, such as Ascot, Newmarket and York.
Some Group One races, such as the ‘Classic’ races – that is, the 1,000 Guineas, 2,000 Guineas, Oaks, Derby and St. Leger – are restricted to certain age groups and others, such as the Nassau Stakes and Sun Chariot Stakes, are restricted to a specific gender. However, generally speaking, horses of the same age and gender compete at level weights in Group One races, with weight-for-age and weight-for-sex allowances for three-year-olds competing against older horses and fillies and mares racing against colts and geldings, respectively.
Of course, Group One races can occasionally be downgraded; to maintain Group One status, over a three-year period, the average official rating of the first four horses home in the race in question must be 115, or more. From 2018, in Group One races, other than two-year-old races, in Britain, a horse must have achieved an official rating of 80 to be allowed to run in the first place.