The greatest ever Derby winners


The most prestigious of the five British Classics, the Epsom Derby 2021 was won by Adam Kirby riding Adayar last weekend. The race serves as the middle leg of the famous Triple Crown – although it’s rare the feat is managed, with Nijinsky the last horse to win the 2,000 Guineas, Derby, and St Leger Stakes in 1970.

However, few races are as big and well-known as the Derby – and there’s no denying that many winners have gone on to etch their names into horse racing folklore.

While you check out the latest tips for horse racing, with Royal Ascot next on the agenda, let’s take a look back at some of the greatest Derby winners from years gone by.

1965: Sea-Bird

Wins in the Derby don’t come much easier, as Sea-Bird made it look effortless in 1965. The 7/4 favourite was in a field of 22, and he won the race two lengths clear of Meadow Court.

While the jockeys behind were willing their rides on, Australian jockey Pat Glennon was still as a statue and as cool as a cucumber, not even needing to use the whip. The French thoroughbred went on to win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe that season, before being named as the best Flat horse of the 20th century.

1970: Nijinsky

Of course, we cannot list the best Derby winners and not name Nijinsky. In winning the Derby in 1970, jockey Lester Piggott went on to secure his fifth victory in the race and the legendary figure holds the record for the most Derby wins – nine.

Nijinsky was unbeaten as a two-year-old and went into the Derby, having won the 2,000 Guineas. The favourite had been Gyr, the son of 1965 winner Sea-Bird­ – and the two were neck-and-neck going into the final furlong. But Piggott pulled on the pace, and pulled clear to win by two and a half lengths.

He went on to become the first horse since 1935 to win the Triple Crown – and no-one has managed the rare feat since.

1980: Shergar

Another legend of the sport. In over 240 years of the Derby, no horse has bettered Shergar’s margin of victory. The Irish-bred horse trained by Sir Michael Stoute was the leading favourite ahead of the Derby, but no-one could have predicted that he would go on to win by 10 lengths.

Three weeks later, Shergar won the Irish Derby, in emphatic fashion, before securing the King George at Ascot. Sadly, he was kidnapped from stud in 1983, in one of sport’s greatest mysteries. But the name and the legend live on.

2009: Sea the Stars

As a three-year-old, Sea the Stars ran a perfect campaign – winning all six of his starts in Group 1 races. Amongst those were two of the British Classics: the 2,000 Guineas and the Derby at Epsom.

Fame and Glory had been the favourite, and there had been question marks over the fitness of Sea the Stars. But he answered the critics, with Michael Kinane in the saddle – to win by one and three-quarter lengths. It was Kinane’s third Derby win, this one coming a fortnight shy of his 50th birthday.

He went on to win the Eclipse Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. And had it not been for Frankel, the John Oxx-trained horse could well have been the best horse of the century.