The Epsom Derby | Most Dramatic Finishes

Features | 2nd June 2021

The Epsom Derby is the world's greatest Flat race and has seen more than it's fair share of jaw-dropping dramatic finishes. Here's some of the best. 

Pour Moi (2011)

Mickael Barzalona stunned the racing world ten years ago this weekend with an outrageously early celebration as he won the Derby.

The charismatic French jockey, then just 19‐years‐old, stood up in his irons punching the air well before his mount Pour Moi flashed past the Epsom winning line with Treasure Beach and Carlton House.

Things did not look promising for French trainer Andre Fabre’s colt for much of the race. He had come from last place turning for home and still had five of the 13 runners to pass a furlong from home.

A strong finishing surge took him into the lead 20 yards from home but Barzalona, having his first Derby ride, gave his backers palpitations with his wild celebrations.

Commentator Richard Hoiles screamed he “celebrates as if he’s won the Derby but the judge may be needed” as they fought out the finish. Luckily for Barzalona, his confidence was well placed – Pour Moi had won by a head. Injury prevented him from running again but his jockey’s celebrations mean he will not be forgotten.

Here’s five more dramatic Derbies from recent history.

Shergar (1981)

Magnificence and mystery dominated Shergar’s career. At Epsom in 1981, ridden by teenage jockey Walter Swinburn, he was one of the most brilliant Derby winners. Shergar cruised round seemingly in second gear before pulling clear with minimal effort from the saddle.

The 10 length winning margin remains a record. Sir Michael Stoute’s colt finished so far in front of the rest of the field that John Matthias on runner‐up Glint Of Gold thought he had won crossing the line.

Shergar went on to win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes but he will be forever remembered for being stolen after retiring to his owner the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud. He was never found and no one was convicted of the crime.

Sharastani (1986)

It was Derby defeat, rather than victory, that lived long in the memory in 1986. Dancing Brave was the well‐backed favourite as he attempted to add to his 2000 Guineas victory.

The age‐old old conundrum of whether he would stay the extra half‐mile dominated the pre‐race chat, while second favourite Sharastani had looked stacked with stamina when landing the Dante Stakes.

Jockey Greville Starkey settled Dancing Brave, in Khalid Abdullah’s familiar colours, at the rear of the field in the early stages. They were last of the 17 runners straightening for home but they began to motor down the wide outside.

Dancing Brave made up ten lengths in the final two furlongs but Sharastani had got first run and held on by a fast‐diminishing half‐length.

It has to be said the combination of a muddling pace and a failure to handle the tricky downhill descent at Tattenham Corner did conspire against Dancing Brave.

Starkey kept the ride for the Eclipse at Sandown when the pair ran out breathtaking winners but he was injured when Dancing Brave won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Pat Eddery replaced him and remained on board for the Arc de Triomphe when he proved he was just about the best horse to ever be beaten in the Derby with a stunning defeat of a stellar field.

Sir Percy (2006)

For dramatic finishes, the 2006 Derby takes some topping. There looked to be an upset on the cards when outsiders Dylan Thomas and Dragon Dancer settled down to battle it out early in the straight.

For a moment it looked like they had the prize between them but they had gone for home plenty early enough. Suddenly, both looked vulnerable as the pack began to close.

Hala Bek swept through to challenge but, just as it appeared like his strong run would carry him to victory, he jinked right nearly unseating Philip Robinson.

All the time Sir Percy was staying on and he burrowed his way through a narrow gap on the rail under Martin Dwyer to grab Dragon Dancer on the line.

The winning distance of a nose had yet to be introduced so it was a shorthead between the pair, with a head back to Dylan Thomas and another shorthead to the desperately unlucky Hala Bek.

There was so much going on in the finishing that you notice something different every time you watch the replay. The one thing that remains the same is that Sir Percy, bought for just £21,000, has his head down where it matters.

Wings Of Eagles (2017)

Wings of Eagles was an unlikely Derby winner for all sorts of reasons.

The 40‐1 outsider was fifth in the betting out of Aidan O’Brien’s six runners, jockey Padraig Beggy had ridden just one winner in the previous 12 months and Wings Of Eagles was stuck in a desperate position as the race hotted up.

He had just two of the of the 18 runners behind him turning into the straight and when he tried to make ground he was hampered on three occasions.

Still only seventh with a furlong to run, he kicked in the turbo with an astonishing burst of speed to mow down stablemate Cliffs Of Moher and Cracksman in the last 50 yards.

His defeat behind stablemate Capri in the Irish Derby and subsequent injury meant Wings Of Eagles only won two of his seven races. The extraordinary way he overcame a seemingly impossible position makes him one of the more memorable Epsom heroes.

Serpentine (2020)

So many of the most dramatic Derby winners made up astonishing amounts of ground in the straight. Serpentine’s victory came in a totally contrasting manner.

When the 25‐1 outsider, who had broken his duck in a maiden just a week earlier, dashed into an early lead most viewers presumed he was the Ballydoyle pacemaker.

By the time the field had reached the top of the hill near the halfway point, they were strung out behind Emmet McNamara on the runaway leader. He used the downhill run to extend the lead while the other 15 riders allowed him more and more rope.

As they sailed into the straight they had a dozen lengths on the field as it finally dawned on the chasing jockeys he wasn’t coming back.

Serpentine never looked like being caught and he crossed the line five‐and‐a‐half lengths clear of outsider Khalifa Sat. 

It was another incredible Classic contest. When it comes to drama the Cazoo Derby at Epsom rarely fails to disappoint.