Dubai-born Saeed bin Suroor has been associated with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, founder of Godolphin, since 1992. He was officially appointed Godolphin trainer in 1995 and made an immediate impact, winning the first three of his twelve British Classics, the Derby, Oaks and St. Leger, with Lammtarra, Moonshell and Classic Cliche, respectively. Indeed, Lammtarra also won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp and was named Cartier Champion Three-year-old Colt.
Lammtarra was retired to Dalham Hall Stud, Newmarket at the end of his three-year-old campaign, but the following year, 1996, bin Suroor won another British Classic, the 2,000 Guineas, with Mark Of Esteem, who also won the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot later in the year. All told that season, bin Suroor saddled just 48 winners, but a host of high-profile victories, including in the Coral-Eclipse and Juddmonte International with Halling and the Racing Post Trophy with Medaaly, yielded £1.96 million in prize money. In only his second year in charge, he became Champion Trainer for the first time and would win the trainers’ title again in 1988, 1999 and 2004.
Nowadays, the longest-serving Godolphin trainer splits his year between Al Quoz Stables in Dubai and Godolphin Stables, formerly Stanley House Stables, in Newmarket. Indeed, he has enjoyed spectactular success in one of the most prestigious and valuable races in the the world, the Dubai World Cup at Meydan, winning nine times between 1999 and 2019.
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.
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.