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.

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.

Has a filly ever won the Derby?

Of the five ‘Classic’ races run in Britain – namely, the 2,000 Guineas, 1,000 Guineas, Derby, Oaks and St. Leger – the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks are restricted to three-year-old thoroughbred fillies, but the other three are open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies. Nowadays, the Derby is rarely contested by fillies; the last filly to run in the race was Cape Verdi, trained by Saeed bin Suroor, who started favourite after winning the 1,000 Guineas in 1998, but could finish only ninth of the 15 runners. Nevertheless, since the Derby was inaugurated in 1780, a total of six fillies have won; the most recent of them was Fifinella who, in 1916, won a ‘substitute’ Derby run at Newmarket and, just for good measure, won the so-called ‘New Oaks’, over the same course and distance, two days later.

What is a Classic?

Not to be confused with its adjectival form, when used as a noun in horse racing circles, ‘Classic’ – often, but not always, capitalised – has a highly specific meaning. In Britain, the term refers to any of the five principal races for three-year-old horses, which are, in chronological order, the 2,000 Guineas, the 1,000 Guineas, the Oaks, the Derby and the St. Leger. The 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger are open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies, but the 1,000 Guineas and the Oaks are restricted to three-year-old thoroughbred fillies. Collectively, the former three races are sometimes referred to as the ‘Triple Crown’; the last horse to win all three was Nijinsky in 1970. The term ‘Classic’ can also be used to describe equivalent races in countries other than Britain, such as the Prix du Jockey Club, also known as the French Derby.