London: Queen Elizabeth II, Lester Piggott and Michael Stoute are indelibly linked to the Epsom Derby and appropriately all three will be foremost on everyone’s minds in Saturday’s renewal, which is part of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
There is uncertainty over whether the Queen will attend the ‘blue riband’ that is named in honour of Piggott, who as a jockey won a record nine Derbies and died last Sunday aged 86, and whose favourite Desert Crown is trained by five-time winner Stoute.
Three missed occasions
If so it will only be the fourth time that she will have missed the race in her 70 year reign — in 1956 and 1984 due to official duties and 2020 when spectators were barred due to Covid.
However, even were she to be absent she will tune into a race she has always yearned to win but came closest when Aureole was a four-length second to Pinza in 1953.
There will be plenty of reminders of the Queen’s close relationship with the sport — such is her love for it she begins every morning with a read of the Racing Post.
Five of her former racehorses will parade and 40 jockeys who have ridden for her during her reign will line up as a ‘guard of honour’ wearing her colours — a purple and scarlet jacket with gold braiding, with black cap.
Piggott bestrode Epsom like no other rider in the 20th century or indeed this one — winning his first Derby in 1954 aged just 18 on Never Say Die — and the racecourse are pulling out all the stops to honour the ‘Long Fellow’.
The jockeys will wear black armbands and there will be a minute’s applause both on Friday (when the Oaks, which he won six times is run) and on Saturday at 1500GMT (7pm UAE) half an hour before the race is due off.
“Running The Derby in his memory, which we believe has not been done in the 242 previous editions of the race, is a fitting tribute to one of the greatest jockeys of the modern era,” said Phil White, director of Jockey Club Racecourses.
“We want to give racegoers on both days the opportunity to pay their respects and celebrate the life and career of this extraordinary sportsman.”
Stoute is at 76 some 20 years younger than the Queen and he provided her with one of racing’s greatest moments with his first Derby win in 1981.
The ultimately ill-fated Shergar, who the Barbados-born trainer calls a “freak”, destroyed his rivals in a 10-length romp — John Matthias the jockey of runner-up Glint of Gold was so far behind he thought momentarily he had won.
Whether Desert Crown is of that outlandish talent remains to be seen but Stoute is not of the Don Quixote mentality at targeting impossible challenges with his horses.
While he may not have the firepower when he was younger his close friend West Indies cricket legend Michael Holding says there is plenty of top wins in the old fellow yet.
“Desert Crown could possibly win the Derby and that would show people yes he is no longer a spring chicken but he has not lost his talent,” Holding told AFP.
Desert Crown has been drawn in stall 12 — from where Serpentine and Australia burst to win the race in 2020 and 2014 respectively — and will face 16 rivals in what is the biggest field since 2017.
Stoute lags three Derby winners behind Irishman Aidan O’Brien, who has three runners headed by Stone Age.
O’Brien, like his fellow trainers, have yet to win a colt (male) classic this term as the English, Irish and French 2000 Guineas all have been carried by Charlie Appleby.
Appleby and O’Brien’s rivalry is developing into that of Stoute and the late Henry Cecil, which dominated the middle of the Queen’s reign.
Appleby, 46, saddles three as well as he bids to make it three wins in the last five runnings with Nations Pride the fancied one after being supplemented for £75,000 ($94,000).
“It is the one race everybody wants to win,” said Appleby whose words will resonate with the Queen.
“The English Derby is the ultimate for any owner, trainer, breeder or jockey.
“More importantly for the lads in the yard, it is what keeps them warm through the winter.”