Given the value of a Classic-winning colt to global racing and breeding powerhouses, such as Coolmore and Godolphin, it should come as no real surprise that, in recent years, the second fillies’ Classic, the Oaks, has been increasingly overshadowed by the Derby. The fact that the Derby is worth £1,125,000 in guaranteed prize money, whereas the Oaks is worth just £375,000, is indicative of their current standings.
However, far from being an afterthought, the Oaks is, in fact, the older – albeit only slightly – of the Epsom Classics. The Oaks was founded, in its current guise, by Edward Smith-Stanley, Twelfth Earl of Derby, in 1779 and named after his residence in nearby Carshalton. Smith-Stanley won the inaugural running of the Oaks and, during the subsequent celebration, he and Charles Bunbury, Chairman of the Jockey Club, came up with the idea for a similar race, open to colts and fillies, which they co-founded, as the Derby, in 1780. Until 1784, the Derby was run over the ‘last mile of the course’, before being extended to a mile and a half. It is worth noting that neither the Oaks nor the Derby were dubbed ‘Classics’ until shortly after the inaugural running of the 1,000 Guineas in 1814.
The race formerly known as the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup is a Grade Three handicap steeplechase run over 2 miles 4½ furlongs on the New Course at Cheltenham. Established in 1963, the race has had various sponsors, and various titles, since the agricultural machinery manufacturer relinquished sponsorship in 1980, but its positioning in the National Hunt calendar has led to it becoming known, commonly, as the December Gold Cup. The most recent sponsor is gourmet food supplier Caspian Caviar, such that, since 2014, the race has been run as the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup.
In the initial sponsorship period, notable winners of the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup included Flyingbolt, in 1965, and Pendil, in 1973. More recently, in 2006, Exotic Dancer won the Boylesports.com Gold Cup, as the race was known at the time, en route to finishing second to his ‘nemesis’ Kauto Star in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.
Officially the longest horse race in the world, according to Guinness World Records, the Mongol Derby is an endurance race staged annually over a 621-mile, or 1,000-kilometre, stretch of the Mongolian Steppe in Inner Mongolia. The Mongol Derby recreates the ancient message delivery system created by Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, which was called ‘Yam’. Riders must collect fresh horses – locally supplied, semi-wild, Mongolian horses owned by nomadic tribespeople – from a series of relay, or support, stations set up at 25-mile intervals along the route, and the race lasts ten days.
Serious injuries, including broken bones, and debilitating conditions, such as heat exhaustion or heatstroke, are commonplace, yet year after year dozens of intrepid riders pay thousands of pounds for the privilege of riding in the Mongol Derby. Participants travel from all over the world to ride in the Mongol Derby and, following a compulsory, three-day training course, in the classroom and on horseback, are ready to embark on what is billed as the ‘toughest equestrian event on the planet’.
Of course, the Mongolian Steppe is an immense expanse of grassland, but the route of the Mongolian Derby changes from year to year, such that riders may need to negotiate a variety of terrain. They are restricted to a ‘corridor’, less than two miles wide, to discourage fording rivers but, otherwise, must navigate themselves over, around or through any geographical features they come across using Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment.
The Kentucky Derby has been run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky since 1875, although the distance was shortened from a mile and a half to a mile and a quarter in 1896. Traditionally staged on the first Saturday in May, ‘The Run for the Roses’, as the race is known, is open to three-year-old colts, gelding and fillies, with the latter receiving a 5lb allowance from their male counterparts. Along with the Preakness Stakes, run at Pimlico in Baltimore, Maryland two weeks later and the Belmont Stakes run at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York three weeks after that, the Kentucky Derby constitutes the American Triple Crown.
Nevertheless, in the better part of a century and a half, just three fillies have won the Kentucky Derby. The first of them was the unbeaten Regret, trained by the legendary James Rowe Sr., in 1915. Unfortunately, owner Harry Payne Whitney neglected to enter her in the Preakness Stakes, so there was no Triple Crown attempt for her. The second was Genuine Risk, trained by LeRoy Jolley, in 1980 and the third was Winning Colors, trained by Darrell Wayne Lukas, in 1988. Both fillies went on to contest both the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, with Genuine Risk finishing second in both and Winning Colors finishing third in the former, but unplaced in the latter.