Epsom Derby

The Epsom Derby takes place in June of each year over a 1m 4f 6y course at the Epsom Downs racecourse in Epsom, Surrey. UK. The group one race is steeped in history; and the first Derby was held in 1780.

It forms part of the Triple Crown which consists of the 2000 Guineas, The Derby and the St Leger Stakes. The Triple Crown was introduced or rather coined as way of ascertaining excellence in racing and it certainly has demonstrated that over the years. Only 15 horses have won all three Triple Crown races starting with West Australian in 1853, and most recently the legendary Nijinsky in 1970.

The Derby, named after the 12th Earl of Derby, is also one of the five British Classics, group one races for three year olds that are designed to display the pinnacle of achievement against peers. The two additional races that make up the British Classics are the 1000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks. Winning any of these five races is an indication of very significant ability. Only one horse, Sceptre has won four of the Classics (in 1902), incidentally the Derby was the only race that Spectre didn’t win.

Historically the race used to be paired with the Epsom fair, which by all accounts sounds like a riproaring affair that attracted people from all over the UK, but especially London. Charles Dickens is known to have visited the fair in the 1850s and enjoyed its mix of magicians, clowns and entertainers.

The Derby is held in such high regard that it’s been used as a template of sorts for races around the world, there would be no Kentucky Derby without the Epsom Derby. The purse for the event matches the prestige at £1.5 million in 2018, with £850,650 going to the winner.

With such an illustrious history it takes special individuals to stand out in this event, but one such person is Lester Piggott who won the Derby a stunning 9 times between 1954 (on Never Say Die) and 1983 (on Teenoso). He also had a memorable win on Sir Ivor. Interestingly each of his nine wins came on a different horse.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Gold Cup, open to horses aged 5 and over, is a Grade One National Hunt race, and the jewel in the crown of the prestigious four day Cheltenham Festival. It’s held in March of each year and the race is run over 3 miles 2½ furlongs, featuring 22 jumps.

The purse for the Gold Cup is a very healthy £575,000 with over £325,000 of that going to the winner. As with many of our most treasured and respected races, it holds no shortage of history. The first Cheltenham Gold Cup was run in July of 1819 at which time it was actually a flat race. It wasn’t until 1924 that hurdles entered the equation and the race became what we know it as today.

With so much history behind it, it’s no surprise that the Cheltenham Gold Cup is seen by many trainers and owners alike as ‘the one to win’. It’s something of a legend maker with the likes of Kauto Star, Best Mate, Desert Orchid and Arkle all staking a claim to greatness by their performances in the Gold Cup. Arkle won the race in three successive years from 1964 and 1966, and Kauto Star had an infamous rivally with Denman, becoming the only horse to ever regain the Cheltenham Gold Cup title in the process, after first winning in 2007 and then again in 2009.

Other stand out performances in the Gold Cup include 100-1 Norton’s Coin winning the 1990 race and Coneygree becoming the first novice to ever win it in 2015. Golden Miller is the most successful horse in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, eclipsing them all with five consecutive wins from 1932 to 1935. Jockey Pat Taaffe and trainer Tom Dreaper are also stand outs in terms of achievement, with 4 and 5 wins respectively under their belts.

Australian Cup Ante-Post Big Race Preview

Avilius has been installed as the clear favourite to triumph in the Australian Cup after storming to victory in the Group 3 Carlyon Cup earlier this month. James Cummings’ galloper looks primed to compete in the biggest races in the country this coming spring, but the Australian Cup has always been his autumn target. He is in superb form and he will take some stopping in the big race, but competition will be fierce and it promises to be an enthralling contest.

The Group 1 Australian Cup is one of the most important races in the Melbourne Autumn Racing Carnival. With a prize purse of $1.5 million, it is also the joint-richest, while the prestige associated with winning it is huge. It takes place over 2000m at Flemington and it is known as the autumn equivalent of the Cox Plate. It is a weight for age race for horses aged three and above, and seasoned gallopers have had huge success here over the years.

The Australian Cup has a long and illustrious history, having been inaugurated in 1863, when Barwon held on for victory over 18 furlongs (3621m). It was shortened to 2000m in the early 1960s to attract talented middle distance gallopers and it has remained a highlight in the racing calendar ever since. True titans of the sport have won this race since the turn of the century, including Makybe Diva, Northerly, Lonhro, Zipping and Shocking. The leading lights in Victoria and further afield will bid to join that great pantheon on March 9 this year.

It takes place on Super Saturday, a day that is always popular among punters as it also includes the Group 1 Newmarket Stakes. Both are huge races, but the Australian Cup is the feature race of the day and it will generate huge interest across the country. Last year it generated a huge media buzz after $61roughie Harlem pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the race’s history.

The previous year had seen $4.25 favourite Humidor triumph with a classy performance, and many punters expected 2018 favourite Gailo Chop to deliver in similar style. They lumped on Darren Weir’s gelding and he went off at $2.60 from barrier 10. Gailo Chop looked to have the race in the bag when he hit the front at the 300m mark, but Harlem, Lindsay Park’s French raider, sneaked up the inside rail and managed to savage the line in sensational fashion to claim an unlikely win.

It was the roughest Australian Cup result since Dandy Andy defied odds of $125 back in 1988. “Closer to the fence is like lightning,” said jockey Michael Walker. “I had a beautiful run the whole way.” The most successful barriers over the last 35 years are actually 7 and 8, which have each yielded five winners. However, the outside barriers are the least successful, and many riders will be keen to stick to that inside rail at the 2019 Australian Cup.

Gailo Chop is not the only short-priced favourite to be vanquished, as Jeune ($1.66), Theseo ($1.80), Northerly ($1.80), Vo Rogue ($2), Shiva’s Revenge ($2.20) and Princess Coup have all finished second in recent times. Yet a number of big favourites have won, including Northerly and Vo Rogue. Veandercross won at just $1.36, the shortest price in recent memory, but Bonecrusher was $1.44, Better Loosen Up was $1.73, Fiorente was $1.90 and Lonhro was $2, so punters will not be put off if the price on Avilius drops further.

Cummings is giddy with excitement about the five-year-old’s prospects this year and beyond. “He’s a pretty serious horse that I think is capable of graduating to weight-for-age,” he said after the Carlyon Cup win. “The Australian Cup is his autumn target. We’ll regroup after that but I am of the view that a light autumn will suit the horse. He’s an extremely good addition to our stable and we’re extremely grateful to have him and we want to look after him. He kept motoring to the line in good fashion. He’s got a great amount of heart about him and good to see him win first-up over 1600 metres.”

Avilius was third last in the field of 10 in that race and looked at a serious disadvantage due to the track pattern, but Kerrin McEvoy got to work on him and he responded with a brilliant burst of pace to overhaul the leaders. He ended up winning by three-quarters of a length from Sikandarabad and Night’s Watch, and Cummings said he has now recovered from being knocked down in the Melbourne Cup.

A look at the horse racing betting at Punters will tell you that Avilius is the clear favourite to triumph in the Australian Cup, but the field is stacked with talent. There were 33 horses left standing after the first acceptances, with six entries each for stars like Park and Waller, along with a strong contingent of runners that have left the Darren Weir stables. Chief among them is second favourite Night’s Watch, who lost out to Avilius in the Carlyon Cup but is still highly regarded. The field is studded with superstar talent, including Johannes Vermeer, Alizee, Land Of Plenty, Extra Brut and Rekindling, so it is sure to be an engrossing race.

The Peter Young Stakes is the primary lead up for the Australian Cup, as 13 of the last 17 winners have come through that race. That race takes place on Saturday and it will feature the likes of Avilius, Night’s Watch and Harlem, so it is bound to affect the odds on the Australian Cup. The Group 2 contest at Caulfield has produced more Australian Cup winners than any other race, with the likes of Fiorente and Lonhro completing the double. It is a big event in its own right, but the Australian Cup is the key distance event in Victoria this autumn and it should prove to be another fascinating race.

Epsom Oaks (The Epsom Oak Stakes)

The Oaks Stakes, or the Oaks for short, is the second, and final, Classic horse race of the season restricted to three-year-old fillies. The race is run over the same course and distance as the Derby – that is, 1 mile 4 furlongs and 6 yards on Epsom Downs Racecourse, Surrey – and is run on the opening Friday of the Derby Festival, a.k.a. Ladies’ Day, in late May or early June. Consequently, the race title is sometimes preceded by the epithet ‘Epsom’, but usually only to distinguish the Classic from other, less auspicious races, such as the Cheshire Oaks at Chester and the Lancashire Oaks at Haydock Park.

 

Inaugurated in 1779, a year before the Derby, the Oaks takes its name from a nearby residence of the 12th Earl of Derby, situated to the east of the town of Epsom. The race is, in fact, the second oldest of the five Classic races run in Britain, after the St. Leger, which was inaugurated three years earlier. The Oaks also forms the second leg of the so-called Fillies’ Triple Crown, after the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and before the St. Leger at Doncaster. However, the Fillies’ Triple Crown has only ever been won by five fillies, the most recent of which was Oh So Sharp, trained by the late Sir Henry Cecil, in 1985, and is rarely, if ever, attempted these days.

 

In total, Sir Henry Cecil saddled eight Oaks winners between 1985 and 2007, but the most successful trainer in the history of the race was Robert Robson, a.k.a. the ‘Emperor of Trainers’, who saddled 13 winners between 1802 and 1825. Robson also saddled seven Derby winners between 1793 and 1823. The most impressive Oaks winner, at least so far, was Sun Princess in 1983. Owned by Sir Michael Sobell, trained by Major Dick Hern and having just her third start, Sun Princess turned the Oaks into a procession, pulling clear under Willie Carson to win by 12 lengths, which remains the widest winning margin since distances were first recorded in 1842.

Champion Stakes

The Champion Stakes is run over 1 mile 1 furlong and 212 yards and is open to horses aged three years and upwards. It is, and always has been, a Group 1 contest, at least since the introduction of the European Pattern System in 1971. The Champion Stakes was inaugurated, at Newmarket, in 1877 and was run, without interruption, at ‘Headquarters’ until 2010. The roll of honour reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of middle-distance talent down the years and includes such luminaries as Petite Etoile, Sir Ivor, Brigadier Gerard, Pebbles and New Approach, to name but a handful.

 

Tristan, who won the Champion Stakes three years running in 1882, 1883 and 1884, is the most successful horse in the history of the race. Although the first documented use of a photo finish was in 1881, photo finish technology was not used in British horse racing until 1947, so the fact that the judge called a dead-heat between Tristan and Thebais on the first occasion and another, between Tristan and Lucerne, on the last may not be quite as remarkable as it first appears.

 

Nowadays, the Champion Stakes is run at Ascot, where it is the highlight of British Champions Day in October each year. The race is, in fact, the finale of the Middle Distance category of the British Champions Series, which was staged for the first time in 2011. At that time, the Champion Stakes was transferred to Ascot, with appropriate hoo-ha and a hike in prize money, from £350,000 to £1.3 million, which made it the most valuable race of its kind in Europe.

 

In 2012, the Champion Stakes was won by Frankel, who, with a Timeform Annual Rating of 147, is the highest-rated horse in the history of the organisation, and was completing a perfect 14-race winning streak. In 2014, his full brother, Noble Mission, upheld the family tradition by recording an emotional victory in the Champion Stakes for Lady Jane Cecil, while in 2017 and 2018 his son, Cracksman, did likewise, winning the Champion Stakes impressively by 7 lengths and 6 lengths, respectively.