Derby Defining Moments

This entry was posted on Monday, May 11th, 2009

SOMETIMES one’s life is defined by those moments you can simply never ever forget. You know the sort of thing I mean. Where were you when… JFK was shot; JR was shot; John Lennon was shot; man landed on the moon; Elvis died.

For me, the Derby defines my life. My first memory of the great race was hearing Charlottown and Scobie Breasley winning in 1966. I was sitting in the car with my late father – the man who got me interested in the racing game – parked on the sea front at Blackpool all those years ago.

If I’m not mistaken it was the unique histrionic tones of Peter Bromley who called the 5-1 shot home. Then there was the shock of rank outsider Morston storming to victory in 1973 as an unconsidered 25-1 chance. Needless to say, I wasn’t on! Troy’s seven-length demolition job made spectacular viewing from my vantage point high in the stands in 1979.

Then there was 1981 – the year of the ill-fated Shergar. Starting at a shade of odds-on, Shergar, who was later kidnapped by the Provisional IRA, beat even Troy’s margin of victory. He had ten lengths to spare over his nearest pursuer Glint Of Gold.

After his kidnap, he was never to be seen again. What a tragic waste of a supreme equine talent. It would have been fascinating to see how his progeny would have fared on the racecourse. But six years before Shergar’s Derby came the one Epsom Classic I will always remember – for all the wrong reasons!

In those days I used to go racing with a friend from Romford in Essex. Always immaculately dressed, Wag – I never really knew his real name – was a fantastic judge of the form book and one of the best race readers I have ever come across. Wag and I thought along similar lines when it came to horseracing. We would meet up every Saturday on the embankment, near Charing Cross station, and off we’d go to the races – Ascot, Sandown, Newbury, Kempton, Lingfield, Epsom, wherever there was a weekend fixture.

As I say we read the form book in basically the same way. Often I’d start the car and the first question was always, ‘What you backing today? Nine times out of ten I could supply him with the answer. We usually backed the same horses – and we were quite successful too.So it came to pass on Derby Day 1975 that we made our way to the course determined to back the French horse, Green Dancer.

In the previous week, we had discussed the race several times and each time we talked the name Grundy figured at the top of our list. But, like many punters, we’d changed course by the time the race was due to be run and were both convinced Green Dancer would win. In fact, we were so convinced that we had even planned where we would be dining that night, using just a small proportion of our winnings. Champagne figured high on our menu.

We piled into Green Dancer – and we weren’t the only ones. The horse went off 6-4 favourite with Grundy starting at 5-1. I think you know the rest. Yes, Grundy won comfortably in the hands of Pat Eddery with Green Dancer palpably failing to stay and trailing home in sixth.

The slap-up meal was off the menu. Instead, we were forced to buy a portion of chips between us at the fair which always runs alongside the course during the Derby meeting. It’s never a good idea to change your mind when it comes to backing horses.A costly lesson, but one I haven’t forgotten to this day. Very often, in racing, like in life, first impressions are the best. Sometimes you can dig too deep when you’ve already hit pay dirt!

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