Which year did Santa Claus win the Derby?

No, it’s not a fairy tale. In 1964, Santa Claus really did win the Derby. In fact, for his followers Christmas came early that year because he also won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Irish Derby. The equine Santa Claus was bred in Warwickshire, but trained on the Curragh by Mick Rogers, son of his joint-owner, Mrs. Darby Rogers.

Having made a promising debut in the Anglesey Stakes, over six furlongs, at the Curragh – when ridden, at 5lb overweight, by stable jockey Willie Burke – in the autumn of 1963, Santa Claus subsequently trounced Chesham Stakes winner Mesopotamia by eight lengths in the National Stakes, over 7 furlongs, also at the Curragh. He was officially rated the best two-year-old in Ireland in 1963 and installed as ante-post favourite for the 1964 Derby.

Santa Claus reappeared in Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh, for which he was sent off even-money favourite, with Burke once again in the saddle. He won, easily, by the three lengths from Young Christopher, thereby strengthening his position at the head of the Derby market. At Epsom, the inexperienced Burke was ‘jocked off’ by reigning champion jockey Arthur ‘Scobie’ Breasley and, at 15/8, Santa Claus was sent off the shortest-priced favourite for seven years in what was, at the time, the most valuable race in British history.

The security surrounding Santa Claus was tight. He was flown in on a chartered flight from Dublin under heavy guard and whisked away to Kempton Park, where he was stabled overnight. Mick Rogers said, ‘I’m not taking any chances. There’s a bundle riding on this horse and I want him just right Wednesday [Derby Day]. There’s always the danger of dopers in cases like this.’

Having settled Santa Claus at the rear in the early stages, Breasley switched him to the outside of the field with half a mile and produced him to lead close home and win going away. At the line, he was a length ahead of his nearest pursuer, Indiana, with Dilettante II a further two lengths behind in third place. Reflecting on his first Derby winner after twelve previous unsuccessful attempts, 50-year-old Breasley said, ‘He [Santa Claus] came down the hill to the corner [Tattenham Corner] so well that I knew he would win.’ However, Breasley was criticised, in some quarters, for making heavy weather of winning and never rode Santa Claus again.