What is a Group One race?

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.

Has any horse ever won all five British Classics?

Of the five British Classics, two of them – that is, the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks – are restricted to three-year-old thoroughbred fillies, so it is impossible for a colt to win more than three. That said, a total of fifteen colts have won the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger, a.k.a. the ‘Triple Crown’, while nine fillies have won the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger, a.k.a. the ‘Fillies’ Triple Crown’. Remarkably, though, two of those fillies not only ran in, but won, the 2,000 Guineas, taking their tally to four English Classics.

In 1868, Formosa, trained by Henry Woolcott, dead-heated with the colt Moslem in the 2,000 Guineas, before easily winning the 1,000 Guineas, over the same course and distance, two days later. She subsequently won the Oaks, by 10 lengths and, despite being beaten, twice, at Royal Ascot, was sent off joint-favourite for the St. Leger at Doncaster, which she duly won by 2 lengths under just hands-and-heels riding.

In 1902, Sceptre, owned and trained by Robert Sievier, started her three-year-old by being narrowly beaten, under 6st 7lb, in the Lincolnshire Handicap, but went on to win the 2,000 Guineas and the 1,000 Guineas, again within two days. She was arguably unlucky not to win the Derby, finishing fourth after missing three days’ work with a bruised foot, but returned to winning ways when hacking up in the Oaks two days later. Subsequently, she ran in the Grand Prix de Paris, twice at Royal Ascot and twice at Glorious Goodwood but, come the autumn, still managed to beat Rising Glass, who had finished second in the Derby, in the St. Leger. In so doing, she became the first and, so far, only horse to win four British Classics outright.

Did the Derby used to be run on a Wednesday?

Yes, it did. For most of the twentieth century, the Derby was run on Epsom Downs on the first Wednesday in June. The race was staged on a Tuesday between 1915 and 1918 and on a Saturday between 1942 and 1945, when run, as the ‘New Derby’, at Newmarket, and on a Saturday again between 1947 and 1950, and in 1953, following its return to Epsom Downs. However, in the face of dwindling attendances, the last Derby to be run in its traditional Wednesday slot was the 1994 renewal, won by Erhaab, and since then the race has been run on a Saturday afternoon. The move was not universally welcomed and was subsequently described by various commentators as ‘a mistake’ or even ‘a catastrophic blunder’. Nevertheless, at one point, in the face of declining TV audience figures, a Saturday evening slot for the premier Classic was mooted by the racecourse executive at Epsom Downs.

Did Lester Piggott ever win the Grand National?

Lester Piggott is arguably the greatest Flat jockey of all time. Between 1948 and 1995, he rode 4,493 winners on the Flat, including 30 British Classic winners, and became Champion Jockey 11 times. Piggott never rode over fences, so he could never have won the Grand National but, early in his career, he did ride successfully over hurdles.

In fact, Piggott rode his first winner over obstacles, Eldoret, at Wincanton on Boxing Day, 1953. The following spring – still three months before his first Derby winner, Never Say Die – he won the Birdlip Hurdle, the opening race at what became the Cheltenham Festival, on Mull Sack and the Triumph Hurdle, in those days run at the now-defunct Hurst Park, on Prince Charlemagne, within the space of a few days. All in all, between 1953 and 1959, Lester Piggott rode 20 winners over hurdles, mainly for his father, Keith.

Lester Piggott may never have won the Grand National, but his grandfather, Ernie, rode three Grand National winners – Jerry M in 1912 and Poethlyn in 1918 and 1919 – and his father saddled the 1963 Grand National winner, Ayala; perhaps the headline question is not quite so absurd, after all?

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