Six of the shortest and longest winning distances at the Epsom Derby

·5-min read

It takes a special horse to win the greatest of the English classic races. Planet Sport goes through the horses that have prevailed by the shortest and longest winning margins in the Epsom Derby.

Shortest Derby winning distances

Suffragette Derby and blanket finish (1913)

The 1913 Derby has gone down in history for the death of the suffragette Emily Davison but the finish to the race was engulfed in a controversy of its own. With Davison stricken after walking into the King's horse Anmer, Craganour fought an even-stevens blanket finish with Aboyeur, Day Comet, Louvois, Great Sport and Nimbus.

Craganour was announced as the victor from Aboyeur and Louvouis in second and third. But the stewards made the usual step of calling an enquiry themselves and then disqualified Craganour for interfering with his competitors. Aboyeur was handed the 1913 Derby, making the horse the largest priced winner in Derby history at 100/1. The controversy wasn't over however with bookmakers complaining they had paid out on both "winners" while court cases continued after the race had been settled. Aboyeur was sent to stud in Russia but went missing during the Russian revolution, his fate suitably clouded for this eventful Derby renewal.

Sir Percy (2006) - A Short Head

There are few more thrilling finishes in Derby history than the 2006 race that had the Marcus Tregoning trained Sir Percy in line with no less than four competitors at the winning post. The popular Sir Percy had finished second in the 2000 Guineas and had ten horses in front of him at the three furlong pole on the Epsom Downs.

Sir Percy was named after the lead character in "The Scarlet Pimpernel" - a master of disguise and escape artist. The horse lived up to his billing by bobbing and weaving his way to the front.

The future Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winner Dylan Thomas looked the likeliest winner but with Sir Percy swerving to the rails and Geoff Wragg's 66/1 outsider Dragon Dancer staying on under pressure from Hala Bek, four horses were in the frame for the photo finish. Eventually the stewards called a famous win for Sir Percy by the shortest of short heads from Dragon Dancer, meaning the horse had matched the literary billing of the dashing hero of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

The Dead Heat (1884) - Harvester and St Gatien

The Derby was first run at Epsom in 1780 and by 1884 there had been two dead-heats. The first occurred in 1828 between Cadland and the Colonel but that was nothing compared to what occurred in 1884.

On May 28 1884, Harvester and St Gatien engaged in a ding-dong Derby battle in the final furlong on the Epsom Downs. It seemed as if future Ascot Gold Cup winner St Gatien had the upper hand but Harvester fought back and the two were neck and neck at the winning post.

Traditionally, dead heats were settled by the two horses racing immediately again, although the prize purse could be shared if both sets of owners agreed. Both Harvester's owner John Willoughby and Jack Hammond of the St Gatien connections agreed to share the spoils, meaning the two horses would be unseparated for eternity in the Derby record books.

Largest Derby winning distances

Workforce (2010) - 7 lengths

It's hard to tell what was more mind-blowing about Workforce's 2010 Derby win, the clock-shattering record time of 2.31.33 or the winning distance of a solid seven lengths. Sir Michael Stoute comes with a spectacular pedigree of Group 1 wins but even he would have been surprised by the blistering Workforce win under Ryan Moore.

Ryan Moore on Workforce
Ryan Moore on Workforce

Workforce only had two starts before taking on the Derby and if Aidan O'Brien expected the 9/4 favourite Jan Vermeer to overtake his pace-maker At First Sight he was to be sorely mistaken. With the 100/1 shot At First Sight toiling at two out, Moore raced past and began to open up an unstoppable lead that would reach seven lengths at the winning post. The race record time had gone but the winning distance was a sight to behold. Even the Sir Henry Cecil trained Bullet Train could only trail in last, with new levels of rapid set by Workforce.

Manna (1925) - 8 lengths

Manna was manna from heaven to the punters in the 1925 Epsom Derby as he streaked to a then record) eight length win. Trained by Fred Darling, the handler who won the Epsom marquee event on no less than seven occasions, Manna went into the Derby on the back of an easy win in the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.

Still, with an unusually wet spring, Manna was sent off a hefty 9/1 with punters unsure of whether this son of a sprinter would handle the Derby distance on sapping ground. It turned out Manna could as jockey Steve Donoghue imposed himself after Tattenham Corner and opening up a resounding eight length lead that the Aga Khan owned Zionist nor the 25 other runners could not eat into. Manna's owner Henry Morriss said that the horse's moniker was chosen because he "always felt that he was a heaven-sent gift".

Shergar (1981) - 10 lengths

Although the tragic case of Shergar will always be a case of what could have been, it was also a case of what was a ridiculously quick racehorse. The kidnapping incident is well documented but shouldn't overshadow Shergar's astonishing 10 length win in the 1981 Derby.

Shergar's handy position in third place coming round Tatttenham Corner was almost irrelevant under Walter Swinburn as it was a Ferrari 308 GTSI going up against a fleet of Vauxhall Vivas in the straight. "There's only one horse in it, you'll need a telescope to see the rest" cried the BBC's Peter Bromley as Shergar entered into a race with himself as the winning margin increased to double digits. At the end, it was an eased-off 10 length win that is unlikely to ever be beaten. The legend of Shergar will live on with the mystery of his disappearance in Ireland but most of all through this drag-race win in which Shergar barely had to get out of a second gear.

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