The racing calendar is nothing if not predictable. Mid March means Cheltenham. The 2000 Guineas comes at the beginning of May, Royal Ascot is the third week of June and Arc weekend is always the first weekend of October. And of course, the big one, the Derby at Epsom on the first Saturday in June.
On Saturday I will attend my 29th successive Derby day. I remember the first of them very well. Much like my first trip to Cheltenham for Desert Orchid’s Gold Cup, the weather on Derby Day on 6 June 1990 was very cold and very wet. The Derby was still on a Wednesday in those days (it moved to a Saturday for Lammtarra’s race in 1995). This was the day when supposedly everyone stopped for a horse race. In those days the Derby was probably a close second to the Grand National in the public’s consciousness. The move to a Saturday may have some benefits but it has made the Derby just another sporting occasion. Let’s face it Cheltenham hardly suffers racing during the week.
Anyway, I digress. I remember the weather in 1990. I remember the bleakness of the Downs. I remember strongly fancying a horse called Zoman who came with a lovely run but patently didn’t stay. I remember Quest For Fame beautifully placed by Pat Eddery staying on to beat a strong finisher Blue Stag, ridden by Cash Asmussen in the Sangster colours with Elmaamul ridden by Willie Carson who was to win that year’s Eclipse in third. Interestingly in last place was Mr Brooks, who two years later was to win the July Cup – so maybe 1m4f at Epsom wasn’t quite the race for him.
The amazing thing that year was that Roger Charlton had just taken over training from Jeremy Tree at the historic Beckhampton stables. Charlton not only trained Quest For Fame, but also Sanglamore who won the previous weekend’s French Derby.
Also incredibly, both Quest For Fame and Sanglamore were owned by Khalid Abdullah yet I bet if you tried to work out a top 10 list of Abdullah horses it is possible neither would feature. Yet Derby winners they both were.
And from that year on I haven’t missed a trip to Epsom. As well the 29 Derbys I’ve seen seven Oaks though I won’t be there tomorrow. I’ll try to do a few more reminisces of Derby Day tomorrow, but if you think 29 is a good run, I will be going on Saturday with my father in law. I think his first Derby was won by Tulyar in 1952. He hasn’t missed one since!