5 Derby Winners that took the breath away

Features | 29th May 2019

Over 230 years of history and splendour has gone into making the Epsom Derby one of the greatest spectacles in sport.

Each and every winner has run a different race to victory, with front-running battlers and fast-finishing closers all gaining jaw-dropping victories on the hallowed Epsom Downs.

But which winners have left the longest lasting impressions? Such a question can naturally only be answered in subjective terms; but we’ve had a go at listing our top five below.

Nijinsky (1970)

The last horse to win the elusive Flat racing Triple Crown, the Vincent O’Brien-trained phenomenon Nijinsky arrived at Epsom unbeaten having earlier won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket in taking style.

The son of the great American stallion Northern Dancer, doubters had quibbled that the big bay may struggle to stay the Derby distance; but any stamina concerns were swept away as he and his pilot Lester Piggott swooped to victory by a comfortable two and a half lengths.

The three-year-old would go on to cement his legacy with a facile win in the King George before completing the third leg of the Triple Crown in the St Leger at Doncaster.

Shergar (1981)

As dominant a Derby winner as there has ever been, the vision of Shergar streaking clear of the field remains one of the most enduring Derby images in modern times.

Trained by Newmarket maestro Sir Michael Stoute, Shergar had shown glimpses of his massive talent when winning both the Sandown and Chester Derby trials in impressive fashion; but few would have guessed he would go on to put on such a sensational display at Epsom.

Ridden by 19-year-old jockey Walter Swinburn the big bay spread-eagled the field with an electrifying display of front-running that catapulted him to superstar status.

His winning distance of 10 lengths remains the widest margin of victory in the famous race; BBC Radio commentator Peter Bromley captioned it best when he said “there’s only one horse in it – you need a telescope to see the rest!”

Lammtarra (1995)

The last Derby winner to retire undefeated, Lammtarra’s journey to Epsom glory was as unorthodox as it was impressive.

Sired by a Derby winner (Nijinksy) and borne out of an Oaks winner (Snow Bride) he won on his only start as a two-year-old before becoming the first horse in 75 years to win the Epsom showpiece without the benefit of a prep race as a three-year-old.

Expertly handled by Walter Swinburn, the inexperienced colt was allowed to settle at the rear of the pack to help him get into rhythm on the often tricky to handle Epsom undulations.

With an ocean of ground to make up on the leaders coming into the straight, Swinburn began to coax his mount forward; eventually unleashing the strong stayer with a powerful closing run to snatch the race in the last few strides.

Lammtarra would go on to win both the feature European 12-furlong races of the season in the King George and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe under new pilot Frankie Dettori that season, before being retired to stud.

Sea the Stars (2009)

The shining star when it comes to middle-distance horses this century, Sea the Stars was a true champion with a devastating turn of foot; yielding him an unblemished racecourse record as a three-year-old, including a flawless display at Epsom.

Like Nijinsky before him, the son of Cape Cross came to Epsom already a Classic Winner having won the 2000 Guineas with authoritative ease at Newmarket.

The sole question mark surrounding him was again whether he’d stay the testing Investec Derby trip.

While the eventual winning margin of two lengths was far from impressive enough to warrant a place on this list; the collection of horses he easily beat on the day shows you just how good Sea The Stars was.

The second placed Fame and Glory went on to win a further three Group 1 races including the Irish Derby and the Ascot Gold Cup.

While the fourth placed Rip Van Winkle would also go on to win another three races at the top level; including that Season’s Sussex Stakes and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.

Workforce (2010)

Though not necessarily the first horses to spring to mind when discussing all-time great Derby winners, Workforce’s win nine years ago merits an inclusion on this list for two good reasons.

Firstly, because his seven-length victory was the third-largest winning distance in Derby history and secondly because he smashed the race’s track record to smithereens.

The inexperienced colt had showed a tonne of promise on his two racecourse outings prior to Epsom; running out a wide-margin winner on debut at Goodwood before then finishing second in the Dante Stakes (Derby trial) at York. Though very few would have predicted a performance like this.

Following a strong early pace set by At First Sight, he was sent for home by jockey Ryan Moore as the field rounded Tattenham Corner and simply ate up the deficit as they ran up the straight.

Passing the pace-setter with a furlong remaining the duo then powered clear to the line.

It was Moore’s first success in the race and landed the top rider the Oaks/Derby double having won the fillies Classic the day beforehand aboard Snow Fairy.