The closing stages of a race on Investec Derby Day

02nd June 2015

A breeder’s view of the Investec Derby

"The Thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended not on experts, technicians, or zoologists, but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby." Federico Tesio

I was asked the other day if this quote was still true. I think very much so.

Go back and see all the different horses that have won the Derby, so many have gone on to shape the breed. Names that echo through pedigrees and racing history; Hyperion, Mahmoud, Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Roberto, The Minstrel… I could go on. All of these Derby winners have had an incredible influence on the modern thoroughbred.

Now it is Galileo who is the Derby-winning sire of Derby winners in New Approach in 2005, Ruler of the World in 2010 and last year's Australia.  Sea the Stars hasn’t sired a Derby winner yet but he has sired an Oaks winner from his first crop.

Of course winning the Derby doesn’t create a superstar stallion and some of the greats never ran in the race. Northern Dancer never got his chance at Epsom but he won the Kentucky Derby, the American Blue Riband and he has been the most dominant sire in the last 100 years.  Sadler’s Wells didn’t run in the Derby because that was the same year as Secreto and El Gran Senor. He ran in the French Derby instead and yet turned out to be far more influential than the Epsom winner or the second horse.

But a good Derby horse has everything you want from a Thoroughbred and a little bit extra. It has to very well balanced to cope with the undulations of Epsom. The great horses have that natural balance, plus stamina and speed. The great stallions pass that on to their sons and daughters.

I don’t think that there is a particular physical type for the Derby. Horses like Sir Ivor and Nijinsky were nearly 17 hands, great big types and then you’ve also had smaller tidier types like over the last couple of years. Pour Moi is a nice example of a smaller, neater type.

I do think however that there is an Epsom type in that they have to be mentally mature as much as physically mature. They have to take everything in their stride, the crowds, the noise, the colour. They are going to hear and see a lot of things they won’t see anywhere else, including a funfair, and they have to take it all in their stride.

The modern runners have one advantage though, they get to canter to the start up the course. It is not like the old days when the runners walked over the middle of the course to the start.

I’ve got no doubt that the really good horses hear the crowd roar as they round Tattenham Corner and feed off the noise and the colour. A horse like Workforce, he entered the straight and it was ‘whoosh!’ He took off!

Make no mistake, it takes a very very good horse to win the Derby. Some people will say ‘Oh that was a bad Derby’, but in my opinion there is no such thing. There might be below average crop of three year olds but never a bad Derby. This year's renewal shows the race is in rude health!