Dubai: Since the early 1980s and as a member of the Al Maktoum entourage, Ahmed Al Shaikh has been present at Downs racecourse in Surrey, England, each year to delight in the extraordinary Derby atmosphere.
He was there in 1989 when a horse called Nashwan made history by becoming the first Dubai-owned winner of the great race, when winning in the colours of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance.
He would relive the experience through three epic years when Erbaab (1994), Lammtarra (1995) and Shaamit (1996) strung together a hat-trick of victories for their Dubai connections.
Now, for the first time he has his own runner in the race as Khalifa Sat bids to win the 241st running of the £500,000 English blue riband and allow Dubai businessman Al Shaikh to relish, first-hand, the joys of winning what is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest races.
Trained by Andrew Balding, who will be saddling a career-sixth Derby runner since Bonfire finished sixth in 2012, Khalifa Sat will be ridden by up-and-coming jockey Tom Marquand, having his first ride in Britain’s most famous Classic.
Khalifa Sat will face 15 rivals headed by the big favourite English King — the Listed Derby Trial Stakes winner at Lingfield Park on June 5 — second favourite and 2,000 Guineas hero Kameko and Hampton Court Stakes victor Russian Emperor.
“To own only a few horses but to have a runner in the Derby is so very special,” Al Shaikh told Gulf News in Dubai.
“It is the most prestigious race in the world and the most difficult race to win in the world. Winning it will mean a lot for me and all the horse owners in the UAE.
“This is a dream. I won’t say Khalifa Sat will win, but I have a lot of faith in the horse ever since he won twice at Goodwoord Racecourse, which is a lot similar to.
“To be honest, I’ll be very happy even he finishing in the top five or six, because this is the Derby, it’s like no other race in the world.”
Al Shaikh said that he has been in constant touch with the horse’s trainer Balding, who helped buy him as the Irish sales last year, and young jockey Marquand.
“Our strategy will be to get a forward position early and sit behind the first four or five horses for the first half of the race,” revealed Al Shaikh. “Everyone will have their own plan but this is ours and we hope we can run with it.
“Tom is a good jockey with a good head on his shoulders and Andrew has the horse in top condition. So we’re very hopeful and praying everything works out well in the race.”
Al Shaikh also revealed that for the first time since the 1980s he will not be at but will be watching the race live on TV with his family and friends in his Al Khawaneej residence.
“It will feel a little strange, but we don’t have any choice,” he said, with a laugh.
Meanwhile, English King trainer Ed Walker was looking forward to saddling his first runner in the Derby.
“I am massively excited by English King and I would not swap him for anything else,” said the handler
“I think he will have learnt a lot at Lingfield and hopefully he can cruise round Tattenham Corner. Whether he is good enough — we will find out, but he ticks an awful lot of boxes. I think that is why he is at the top of the market, because he ticks all the boxes. Anyone who says they don’t think about winning the Derby is surely lying.
“I have been thinking about it since I discovered horse racing when I was 13 years old, so of course you think about it in this position. It would be a great day if it happened.”
English King’s main danger looks to be Balding’s other runner, Kameko, who will be ridden by British champion jockey Oisin Murphy. However, Kameko will have to prove that he has the stamina and resilience over 2,400 metres, a distance which he is attempting for the first time in his career.
A total of 37 horses have won the 2000 Guineas and Derby, but only two in the last 30 years — Sea The Stars (2009) and Camelot (2012).
Kameko is drawn in stall 11, which has not produced a single Derby winner since starting stalls were introduced at Downs in 1967.
Ireland’s champion flat trainer Aidan O’Brien is bidding for a record-breaking eighth Derby victory with a posse of six horses headed by Mogul, the pick of Coolmore’s retained jockey Ryan Moore
Britain’s champion trainer John Gosden is represented by once-raced Newbury maiden scorer Worthily (Martin Harley) while the Derby field is completed by Max Vega (Ralph Beckett/Harry Bentley) and Gold Maze (Jessica Harrington IRE/David Egan.
Epsom Derby: 11/4 English King; 4/1 Kameko; 5/1 Mogul; 13/2 Russian Emperor; 17/2 Vatican City; 14/1 Highland Chief, Pyledriver, 20/1 Mohican Heights, Serpentine; 22/1 Khalifa Sat; 33/1 Emissary, Max Vega, Mythical, Worthily; 50/1 Amhran Na Bhfiann, Gold Maze
10 YEARS AGO Workforce becomes the first colt to be beaten in the G2 Dante Stakes at York and go on to win the Epsom Derby. The son of King’s Best sets a new course record of 2m 31.33s (which still stands today) as he comes home seven lengths clear. It a third Derby win for owner Khalid Abdullah, a fifth for trainer Sir Michael Stoute and a first for jockey Ryan Moore. Later in the season, Workforce lands Europe’s premier all-aged middle-distance contest — the G1 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
20 YEARS AGO Sinndar becomes the first Irish-trained Derby winner for 16 years as he gets the better of Sakhee by a length in a thrilling finish. It is a fourth Derby success for owner H H Aga Khan IV and a first for trainer John Oxx and jockey Johnny Murtagh. Sinndar is unbeaten for the rest of 2000, taking the Irish Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Tromphe.
30 YEARS AGO Khalid Abdullah’s colours are carried to success for the first time as Quest For Fame comes out on top. It is also a first Derby victory for trainer Roger Charlton. Charlton began training in 1990, having taken over from Jeremy Tree at Beckhampton. Charlton had saddled Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) hero Sanglamore just three days’ prior. It was a third and final Derby win for jockey Pat Eddery.
40 YEARS AGO Trainer Dick Hern and jockey Willie Carson won the 1979 Derby with Troy and followed up a year later in 1980 with Henbit. Henbit is a second Derby hero for owner Etti Plesch, making her the first woman to own two Derby winners. Plesch was previously successful with Psidium in 1961.
50 YEARS AGO Nijinsky is the impressive winner for owner Charles Engelhard, trainer Vincent O’Brien (the third of his six Derby wins) and jockey Lester Piggott (the fifth of his record nine Derby victories). The son of Northern Dancer had previously won the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket and becomes the 15th and latest colt to win the English Triple Crown as he takes the St Leger at Doncaster in September. Nijinsky goes on to a highly successful career at stud, siring Derby winners Golden Fleece, Shahrastani and Lammtarra.
EPSOM DERBY FACTS AND FIGURES
LINGFIELD: Of the 74 horses to win the Lingfield Derby Trial since 1946, 63 went on to run in the Derby with seven being successful in both contests. The winners were Tulyar (1952) Parthia (1959) Teenoso (1983) Slip Anchor (1985) Kahyasi (1988) High-Rise (1998) Anthony Van Dyck (2019)
DAYS OF THE WEEK The Derby has been run on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, and usually takes place on the first Saturday in June. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 running will be staged on Saturday, July 4. It was permanently switched from Wednesday to Saturday in 1995. The first Derby in 1780 was run on May 4 — the earliest date in the year it has been run — while the 1917 renewal was the latest on July 31.
THE COURSE: The Derby course at Downs is in the rough shape of a horseshoe. From the start, 360 feet above sea level, there is a slight right-handed bend and a rise of some 134 feet sweeping leftward until the top of the hill. A left-hand descent of 34 feet around Tattenham Corner leads into the cambered straight where there is a 50 feet drop until half a furlong out where the ground level rises by 10 feet. FASTEST TIME 2m 31.33s — Workforce (2010)
WINNING DISTANCES: Longest — 10 lengths (1981 Shergar) Shortest — shorthead (since 1945 — 1972 Roberto, 1984 Secreto, 1998 Benny The Dip, 2006 Sir Percy)
DEAD-HEATS: There have been two dead-heats in Derby history. 1828 — Cadland and The Colonel, with the former winning the run-off later that afternoon. 1884 — St Gatien and Harvester could not be separated.
DISQUALIFICATIONS: The only Derby winner to be disqualified for an incident in the Classic was Craganour in 1913. The stewards judged that the 6/4 favourite had been guilty of ‘bumping and boring’ the runner-up Aboyeur, the 100/1 shot who was awarded the prize. The outcome of the 1844 race was decided in a court of law six weeks later, when the ‘winner’ Running Rein was revealed as a four-year-old, Maccabeus, and the race awarded to the runner-up Orlando.
FIELD SIZE: Largest — 34 (1862) Smallest — 4 (1794). There is now a safety limit of 20 for the Epsom Derby.
MOST SUCCESSFUL JOCKEY: Lester Piggott — Never Say Die (1954), Crepello (1957), St Paddy (1960), Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Roberto (1972), Empery (1976), The Minstrel (1977) and Teenoso (1983)
CONSECUTIVE WINNERS: Steve Donoghue is the only jockey to have ridden three consecutive Derby winners — Humorist (1921), Captain Cuttle (1922) and Papyrus (1923).
LONGEST WAIT: Sir Gordon Richards. The 1953 winner Pinza was his 28th and last mount at the age of 49.
MOST DERBY RIDES: Lester Piggott rode in the Derby a record 36 times, having his first ride at 15 on Zucchero in 1951, while the legendary jockey’s final mount, Khamaseen, came when he was aged 58 in 1994. Piggott’s association with the Derby continued as Shaamit, the 1996 winner, was trained by William Haggas, his son-in-law.
YOUNGEST WINNING JOCKEYS: John Parsons, 16 years old (Caractacus 1862), Lester Piggott 18 years old (Never Say Die 1954), Walter Swinburn, 19 years old (Shergar 1981), Mickael Barzalona, 19 years old (Pour Moi 2011), Joseph O’Brien, 19 years old (Camelot 2012).
OLDEST WINNING JOCKEYS: John Forth, 60 years old at least (Frederick 1829), Scobie Breasley, 52 years old (Charlottown 1966). Charlie Smirke, 51 years old (Hard Ridden 1958), Willie Carson, 51 years old (Erhaab 1994), Mick Kinane, 49 years old (Sea The Stars 2009), Sir Gordon Richards, 49 years old (Pinza 1953).
WOMEN JOCKEYS: Three women have ridden in the Derby. Alex Greaves, who partnered 500/1 shot Portuguese Lil in 1996, became the first woman to take part in the Derby — she finished last. Hayley Turner also came last on 25/1 chance Cavaleiro in 2012. Ana O’Brien partnered 66/1 outsider The Anvil, trained by her father Aidan, to finish 17th of the 18 runners in 2017.
FIRST-TIME SUCCESS: Two jockeys since 2000. Mickael Barzalona (in 2011 on Pour Moi) and Padraig Beggy (in 2017 on Wings Of Eagles).
MOST SUCCESSFUL TRAINERS (7 WINS): Robert Robson, John Porter, Fred Darling, Aidan O’Brien
TRAINER WITH SUCCESSIVE WINNERS: Aidan O’Brien became the first trainer to win the Derby three times in succession in 2014 when Australia added to the victories of Ruler Of The World and Camelot. 17 trainers have won the Derby back to back.
RIDING AND TRAINING: Four men have both ridden and trained a Derby winner — Matt Stephenson, John Forth, Robert Sherwood and Harry Wragg. The last-named partnered Felstead (1928), Blenheim (1930) and Watling Street (1942) to victory and then trained Psidium (1961) to win.
FIRST AND SECOND: 12 trainers have saddled the first and second in the Derby, most recently Aidan O’Brien with Wings Of Eagles and Cliffs Of Moher in 2017, his second one-two following High Chaparral and Hawk Wing in 2002.
OVERSEAS DOMINATION: In 2013, seven of the first eight home, led by Ruler Of The World, were trained overseas. This feat was also achieved in 2019, where seven of the first eight home were all trained in Ireland, six of those by Aidan O’Brien, including the winner Anthony Van Dyck.