The Derby was first run in May 1780, the first winner being Diomed, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury, who collected prize money of £1,065, which was a fairly decent sum in those days. Interestingly The Derby could well have been named The Bunbury, as it was a toss-up between Bunbury and the 12th Earl of Derby whose name would adorn the race. Sir Charles did not miss out completely on having his own race, as he was honoured by having the Bunbury Cup, a race over 7f at Newmarket every July, named after him.
The first four runnings of The Derby were over a mile, whereupon the distance was then increased to the mile and a half it still is today. It was not until 1787 that Lord Derby had the first winner of ‘his own’ race, a horse called Sir Peter Teazle.
The Derby has featured many a famous name, both equine and human. Amongst the great horses to win the race are names like Diomed (first winner), Voltigeur, Hyperion, Dante, Sea Bird, Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Shergar, Galileo, Sea The Stars and a host more.
Famous names connected to The Derby include the great Lester Piggott who is the jockey with the most wins, 9 in total. Other top jockeys to find fame in the race include Harry Wragg, Sir Gordon Richards, Willie Carson and one of my own favourites Walter Swinburn, also known as The Choirboy. Winning-most trainers are Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling all with 7 winners each, although Aidan O’Brien is currently on 6 and holds every chance of joining those earlier three trainers on 7, given that he has the current evens favourite for this year’s race in Saxon Warrior.
Whether Saxon Warrior represents any value at those odds is a matter of every punter’s own opinion. It is certain that there can be value in an even-money shot, or even an odds-on shot, if the actual chances of winning are much higher than the odds would indicate. I do not hold a definite view one way or the other on this matter as far as Saxon Warrior is concerned, and if pressed, I would say that I think those odds are just about right. He had been trading at around 8/11 prior to Aidan O’Brian sounding a note of caution about the soft ground the race is likely to be run on.
It is often and rightly said that the punter does not need to have a bet in every race, and that is very true. Only the bookmaker has to bet in every race, but he has the numbers on his side in terms of over-round in each market. However, there are not many punters I know who can let a Derby or a Grand National pass by without a financial interest, no matter how small or large. For me personally The Derby is not always a great betting race, but I will certainly be having an interest of some kind. At the time of writing, I have not done much prep work on the race and will perhaps be looking for a nicely-priced each-way chance, or if I feel strongly enough about uncertainty in the favourite’s chance close to off-time, a lay bet on the favourite to have the other 13 running for me.
Whatever happens in terms of having a bet on the race, it will as usual turn out to be a great spectacle. The spine is already tinging at the thought of the commentator saying “and as they come round Tattenham Corner…” Bring it on!