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.

How many times did Lester Piggott win the Derby?

Lester Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock Park in 1948, at the age of just 12, and his last, Palacegate Jack, at the same Merseyside course in 1994, at the age of 59. In total, Piggott rode 4,493 winners, including 30 English Classic winners.

On his first ride in the Derby, as a precocious 15-year-old, in 1951 – long before the introduction of starting stalls – Piggott failed to make much of an impact when he was left at the start on the talented, but mulish, Zucchero. However, he opened his account in the Epsom Classic three years later, aboard Never Say Die, whose victory, at 33/1, made him the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby.

Further success followed, aboard the heavily backed favourite Crepello in 1957 and the ‘underrated’ St. Paddy in 1960, but by the time of his fourth Derby win, aboard the odds-on Sir Ivor, in 1968, Piggott had perfected the short, ‘bent hairpin’ riding style that became his trademark. His next two Derby winners, Nijinsky – who became the last horse to win the coveted ‘Triple Crown’ – in 1970 and Roberto in 1972, both started favourite, but his seventh Derby winner, Empery in 1976, was not expected by anyone, including Piggott himself, to beat the favourite, Wollow. He did, comfortably, and his victory, at 10/1, made Piggott the most successful jockey in the history of the Derby.

‘The Long Fellow’ – as Piggott was affectionately known – was not finished yet, though, winning the Derby again on The Minstrel in 1977 and Teenoso in 1983. Piggott rode in the Derby six more times, without success, but his career record of nine wins from 36 rides may never be beaten.

Why is the Derby so-called?

In 1779, Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby founded a sweepstakes race, for three-year-old thoroughbred fillies, to be run over a mile-and-a-half on Epsom Downs. He called it the Oaks Stakes, after his nearby residence, known as ‘The Oaks’ or, historically, as ‘Lambert’s Oaks’, in Carshalton. Derby won the inaugural running of the Oaks Stakes with his own horse, Bridget, and subsequently celebrated with friends, who included Sir Charles Bunbury, Chairman of the Jockey Club.

Together, the pair co-founded another sweepstakes race, for three-year-old colts and fillies. Legend has it that they tossed a coin to decide on the name of the race but, in any event, the inaugural ‘Derby Stakes’ was run, over a straight mile, on Epsom Downs on May 4, 1780. Bunbury had some consolation insofar as he won the race, with Diomed, and collected the princely sum of £1,065 15s. The Derby Stakes was run over a mile until 1784, when the distance was extended to a mile-and-a-half and the sweeping, downhill turn into Tattenham Corner was introduced.

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