Which was the shortest-priced winner of the Derby?
The Derby was inaugurated in 1780 and, in 242 runnings since, the shortest-priced winner of the Epsom Classic was Ladas, who was returned at odds of 2/9 in 1894. These super short odds make the idea of slot machine spins at HellSpin casino nz seem irresistible. Owned by Archibald Philip Primose, Lord Rosebery – who became Prime Minister in March, 1894 – and trained by Mathew Dawson, Ladas was unbeaten in four starts as a juvenile and won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on his reappearance as a three-year-old.
A facile success in the Newmarket Stakes, over a mile and a quarter, later in May, 1894, only served to shorten his price for the Derby, in which he faced just six rivals. The pick of the opposition appeared to be Matchbox, whom Ladas had beaten 1½ lengths in the 2,000 Guineas, so the fact that he was sent off at prohibitive odds was no real surprise.
However, the Derby did not turn out to be the ‘cakewalk’ it appeared on paper. Ridden, as usual, by John ‘Jack’ Watts, Ladas was held up in the early stages, but tackled the leader, Matchbox, in the home straight. He looked, for a stride or two, as if he might win easily, but Watts had to apply pressure to master his rallying rival and, although Ladas eventually forged ahead in the closing stages, his winning margin over Matchbox was identical to that in the 2,000 Guineas.
Having won the first two legs of the Triple Crown, Ladas was sent off favourite to win the third, the St. Leger at Doncaster. He once again faced Matchbox, but having taken the measure of his old rival, was run down in the final furlong and beaten three-quarters of length by 50/1 outsider Throstle.