Mike Moon
Horse racing correspondent
4 minute read
4 Jun 2021
10:10 am

The Epsom Derby and a tale of blackguards

Mike Moon

Popular rider Frankie Dettori has been confirmed aboard John Gosden-trained 15-2 shot John Leeper, a son of the legendary Frankel.

The top two runners in the betting, Princess Calla and Zarina, have drawn barriers No 2 and No 1 respectively for Saturday’s HSH Princess Charlene Empress Club Stakes. Picture: Lo Chun Kit /Getty Images


The most famous horse race in the world, the Derby Stakes at Epsom in England, will be staged for the 241st time on Saturday. The race no longer has strong South African connections, with the ending of Investec’s sponsorship after 11 years, but will still be followed eagerly by local racing fans.

An event with such a long history obviously has some yarns to tell, but perhaps none are as crazy as that concerning the 1844 running. During lockdown and the suspension of racing in 2020, writer Ben Linfoot wrote a lengthy article on his Top 40 Derby winners for the UK’s Sporting Post.

Coming in at No 10 was a horse called Orlando – picked in that spot not for his ability, per se, but due to the extraordinary skulduggery that went on that year.

Linfoot tells it splendidly:

“There have been several books written about the 1844 Derby, including Gentlemen And Blackguards by Nicholas Foulkes, a publication with the tagline ‘Gambling Mania & The Plot To Steal The Derby of 1844’, which is a pretty tame teaser for an incredible tale.

“Probably the most notorious scandal in the history of racing, the winner of the 1844 Derby, a race for three-year-olds right from its initial inception in 1780, was four years old. And, not only that, he wasn’t the only horse of that vintage in the race as Leander, who died after breaking his leg in the contest, was found to be four upon examination of his teeth.

“And, not only that, but another fancied horse, Ratan, was drugged, while his jockey, Sam Rogers, also pulled him to make sure of defeat. And, not only that, but the favourite for the race, Ugly Buck, was also said to have been ridden to lose.

“The orchestrator of this dastardly coup was Abraham Levi Goodman, an unscrupulous gambler who ran the four-year-old Maccabeus as the three-year-old Running Rein.

“Given his maturity and the fact most of the other fancied horses were got at, it was no surprise to Goodman that Running Rein had won, but the Jockey Club and Lord George Bentinck were onto him and he fled the country without his £50,000 in winnings.

“The case was settled in a court of law and the runner-up on the day, Orlando, was awarded the race. It wasn’t the first time that four-year-old fraud was suspected in the Derby, as the 1832 winner St Giles, the 1833 winner Dangerous, and the 1839 winner Bloomsbury, were all thought to have a year in hand, as well. The 1844 debacle, though, seemed to put an end to the chicanery.”

Elsewhere in his article, Linfoot refers to a “sea of skullduggery” that swamped British racing in the 1830s and 1840s. He also relates the tale of 1846 – which was, incidentally, the first occasion of an official recorded time.

“Pyrrhus The Second beat Sir Tatton Sykes in 2m55secs. Sir Tatton Sykes won the 2000 Guineas and the St Leger that season and would, in all likelihood, have been the first horse to win the Triple Crown were it not for his jockey, Bill Scott, who was drunk in the saddle on Derby day,” writes Linfoot.

There is unlikely to be anything of the sort on Saturday.

Twelve starters were declared for the 2021 race, which has been dominated for the past 20 years by trainer Aidan O’Brien and the Coolmore ownership – with eight victories.

O’Brien had six horses in the mix until last week but, as expected, scratched five of them. So, for the first time in 17 years, the Irish master conditioner has just one runner in the most celebrated Classic – Bolshoi Ballet, an even-money favourite. The colt will be ridden by stable jockey Ryan Moore.

The son of Galileo (O’Brien’s first Derby winner, in 2001) jumped to the head of the betting after taking the Derrinstown Derby Trial in impressive fashion last month.

Popular rider Frankie Dettori has been confirmed aboard John Gosden-trained 15-2 shot John Leeper, a son of the legendary Frankel. John Leeper set himself up for his Classic tilt with victory in the Fairway Stakes at Newmarket.

Adam Kirby was due to ride John Leeper until the late Dettori switch, but he will still feature in the Derby as he has subsequently been booked to ride Godolphin runner Adayar (33-1).

Adayar is one of three runners for Godolphin, whose best chance appears to be the unbeaten Hurricane Lane (9-1). He won the Dante Stakes, a famous Derby “trial”, and will be ridden by William Buick.

Mac Swiney (joint second favourite at 7-1 with Mohaafeth) is trained by Jim Bolger, who has already enjoyed success in the English and Irish 2,000 Guineas this campaign.

Mohaafeth, racing in the well-known silks of the late Sheikh Hamdan, was declared for William Haggas and Jim Crowley, while other trial winners Third Realm and Youth Spirit line up as well. Outsiders Southern Lights, Gear Up and Mojo Star complete the Derby dozen.

Runners and riders for the Derby:

Adayar (Adam Kirby)

Bolshoi Ballet (Ryan Moore)

Gear Up (Ben Curtis)

Hurricane Lane (William Buick)

John Leeper (Frankie Dettori)

Mac Swiney (Kevin Manning)

Mohaafeth (Jim Crowley)

Mojo Star (David Egan)

One Ruler (James Doyle)

Southern Lights (Declan McDonogh)

Third Realm (Andrea Atzeni)

Youth Spirit (Tom Marquand)