At the time of writing, veteran trainer Sir Michael Stoute, 75, has won the Derby five times, twice before his knighthood – interestingly, awarded for services not to horse racing, but to tourism in his native Barbados, in 1998 – and three times thereafter. His most famous Derby winner was undoubtedly Shergar, who won, eased down, by 10 lengths in 1981. Shergar was owned by Prince Shāh Karim al-Husayni, a.k.a. Aga Khan IV, and ridden by the late Walter Swinburn, as was Stoute’s next Derby winner, Shahrastani, in 1986. Rather unfairly, the 1986 Derby is remembered more for the controversial defeat of the hot favourite, Dancing Brave, than the victory of Shahrastani.
In any event, Stoute had to wait a while for his next Derby winner but, in the style of ‘London buses’, two came along together, in the form of Kris Kin in 2003 and North Light in 2004. Both winners were ridden by Kieren Fallon. Last, but by no means least, in 2010, Stoute enjoyed another wide-margin, ‘Royal’ Derby winner, courtesy of Workforce, owned by the late Khalid Abdullah. Ridden by Ryan Moore, Workforce was soon clear and in command, winning by 7 lengths in a time of 2 minutes 31.33 seconds, which still stands as a course record.
Unsurprisingly, the leading owner in the history of the Cheltenham was the owner of the most successful horse in the history of the ‘Blue Riband’ event, Golden Miller. Golden Miller achieved legendary status by winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup five years running between 1932 and 1936, but his owner, the Honourable Dorothy Paget, became almost as famous, or infamous, for her eccentric, often tyrannical behaviour. The richest unmarried woman in the country, at one point, Miss Paget would win the Cheltenham Gold Cup again with Roman Hackle in 1940 and Mont Tremblant in 1952, for a total of seven victories; her success did not prevent her being utterly difficult and falling out with her trainers on a regular basis.
Basil Briscoe, who trained Golden Miller to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup the first four times, was replaced by Owen Anthony after the horse tried to refuse and unseated rider in 1935 Grand National. Anthony, who also trained Roman Hackle, was sufficiently forthright to tell the largely nocturnal not to disturb him in the middle of the night, as was her custom. Fulke Walwyn, who trained Month Tremblant, on the other hand, found Miss Paget ‘so trying’.
Godolphin originally made an application for Charlie Appleby to replace his predecessor, Mahmood Al Zarooni, at Moulton Paddocks, Newmarket in June, 2013. However, in the wake of in what has been described as ‘one of the biggest doping scandals in British racing history’, his appointment was delayed by a month or so, pending the completion of an investigation by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA).
Al Zarooni had previously admitted adminstering anabolic steroids to 22 horses in his charge and was ‘warned off’ for eight years. Prior to his appointment, Appleby had worked for Sheikh Mohammaed for 14 years, as travelling head lad, stable head lad and assistant trainer to Godolphin’s other trainer in Newmarket, Saeed bin Suroor, and more recently as as assistant trainer to Al Zarooni. Naturally enough, the BHA needed to satisfy itself that Appleby was innocent of any wrongdoing. However, Al Zarooni also admitted personally importing the drugs from Dubai and requesting unqualified staff to administer them, without arousing suspicion from senior members of staff, including Appleby.
Although considered by some as nothing more than a temporary fall guy, Appleby has, nonetheless, blossomed into one of the leading trainers in the land. At the last count, he had saddled over 600 winners at home and abroad, including 37 at Group One or Grade One level.
Desert Orchid was an immensely popular grey – in fact, towards the end of his career, almost white – horse, who won 34 of his 70 starts over hurdles and fences and remains the sixth highest-rated steeplechaser in the history of Timeform. He was trained, throughout his career, by David Elsworth, who first took out a training licence in his own right in 1978. At the peak of his powers, Elsworth had 143 horses in his yard at Whitsbury Manor Stables, near Fordingbridge, Hampshire.
Elsworth won the National Hunt Trainers’ Championship just once, in 1987/88, but nonetheless saddled Desert Orchid to win the King George VI Chase at Kempton Park on four times, in 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1990 and the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in 1990. However, the defining moment for horse and trainer came at Cheltenham on March 16, 1989.
Despite being better going right-handed – a stone better, according to jockey Simon Sherwood – and unsuited by the prevailing heavy going, Desert Orchid was still sent off 5/2 favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Adopting his usual bold, front-running style, he made most of the running until the second-last fence, but came under pressure and looked beaten when tackled by confirmed mudlark Yahoo on the run to the final fence. However, Desert Orchid rallied gamely, forged ahead on the run-in to win by 1½ lengths.