Historically, the three English Classic races open to three-year-old colts – namely the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger – constituted the so-called ‘English Triple Crown’. However, the last horse to win all three races was Nijinsky in 1970 and, in the intervening five decades, breeding for speed and the obvious attraction of more glamorous races, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, has meant that Triple Crown contenders have been few and far between.
That said, since Nijinsky, such luminaries as Nashwan in 1989, Sea The Stars in 2009 and, most recently, Camelot in 2012 have all completed the 2,000 Guineas – Derby double. Nashwan and Sea The Stars both bypassed the St. Leger in favour of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and, although Nashwan ultimately missed the Longchamp showpiece after a ‘lifeless’ defeat, at long odds-on, in his preparatory race, Sea The Stars confirmed his status as one of the greatest racehorses of all time by becoming the first horse in history to complete the 2,000 Guineas – Derby – Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe treble in the same year.
By contrast, the last horse to win the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby, Camelot, did attempt the Triple Crown. Nevertheless, despite starting long odds-on for the fifth and final Classic, Camelot went down by three-quarters of a length to 25/1 outsider Encke.
The late Sir Henry Cecil, who died of cancer on June 11, 2013, at the age of 70, is best known as the trainer of Frankel, the highest rated horse in the history of Timeform and World Thoughbred Rankings, who retired, unbeaten in 14 races, in October, 2012. However, while Cecil, who was kinghted for services to horse racing in 2011, may have described Frankel as ‘the best horse I’ve ever seen’, he was arguably one of the greatest trainers in history.
Unfortunately his career was overshadowed by controversy but, in his heyday, between the late Seventies and early Nineties, Cecil was Champion Trainer ten times. Overall, he saddled 25 British Classic winners and was particularly adept with fillies, winning the Oaks eight times, including with Fillies’ Triple Crown heroine Oh So Sharp in 1985, and the 1,000 Guineas six times. He also won the Derby four times, including with British Horse of the Year, Reference Point, in 1987, the St. Leger four times and the 2,000 Guineas three times. Until June, 2018, when Poet’s Word, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, won the St. James’s Palace Stakes, Cecil also held the record for the most winners at Royal Ascot, having saddled 75 in his long, illustrious career.
The Derby Stakes was inaugurated in 1780 and, while the distance was extended from a mile to a mile-and-a-half in 1784, the race was restricted to three-year-old colts and fillies from its inception. The horse that passed the post first in the 1844 renewal of the Derby, appeared, at first glance, to be the three-year-old Running Rein, but a subsequent investigation revealed that the ‘winner’ was not, in fact, Running Rein, nor any other three-year-old.
In what the Solicitor-General later described as ‘a gross and scandalous fraud’, the original owner of Running Rein, one Abraham Levi, a.k.a. Goodman, had substituted a four-year-old, by the name of Maccabeus, to run in the Derby in place of the three-year-old. Obviously, a four-year-old was ineligible to run in the Derby, so the horse purporting to be Running Rein was disqualified and the race awarded to the runner-up, Orlando. Apparently, Maccabeus had been entered to run in races under his own name before he was purchased by Levi so, to allow him to be trained, as ‘Running Rein’, for the Derby Levi recruited an Irish horse – perhaps unsurprisingly, a five-year-old – to complete the subterfuge by masquerading as the ‘real’ Maccabeus.
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.