HISTORY OF THE AUSTRALIAN DERBY
Since it was first won by Kyogle in 1861 the Australian Derby has remained a perennial favourite in the Autumn Racing Calendar.
Though the starting date of the ATC Derby has been debated, we take the 1861 AJC Randwick Derby Stakes as the first, won by Kyogle. At that time a spring race, the classic brought over from England has remained a key part of carnival time. For three year olds over 2400m, the Derby is now an autumn favourite.
Early winners of the race included colonial champions Yattendon (1843), The Barb (1866), Grand Flaneur (1880) and Abercorn (1887). In 1919, Richmond Main and Artilleryman crossed together giving the race its first dead heat. Richmond Main would go on to win the Victoria Derby, Chelmsford Stakes and the Rawson Stakes, another dead heat, this time with Poitrel. Artilleryman would win the Melbourne Cup and Caulfield Guineas. In 1935 there was another dead heat, this time between Allunga and Homer.
1925 winner Manfred was one of Australia’s most erratic race horses. He would often refuse to jump with the rest of the field and was nicknamed Moody Manfred. The Derby in 1925 saw a crowd of 80,000 at Randwick. Manfred jumped poorly giving the field a 100m start. He stunned the crowd by making up the ground and winning by 1 ½ lengths from Petunia. Manfred went on to win the Cox Plate and a week later the Victorian Derby. It took champion Windbag to beat him in the Melbourne Cup three days later.
The golden age of racing at the end of the 1920s and into the 1930s saw big names like Phar Lap (1929), Peter Pan (1932) and Hall Mark (1933) successful in the Derby. Phar Lap got in a win just before the AJC Committee decided to ban geldings from the Derby. From 1932 to 1956, geldings were not allowed to start in the Derby. The same happened in Victoria. Once the ban was lifted, Kingston Town (1980) became one of the more famous geldings to win the race.
In 1944, Tea Rose became one of the few fillies to win the Derby. The last one had been Picture in 1898. Tea Rose won easily by two lengths from Removal. She had also won the Rosehill Guineas that season and would go on to win the Canterbury Stakes and the Craven Plate. It wouldn’t be until 1982 before the next filly would cross to win and that was Rose Of Kingston.
Classy winners of the 1950s included Prince Delville (1954), Monte Carlo (NZ) (1956), Tulloch (NZ) (1957), Skyline (1958) and Martello Towers (1959). Martello Towers would be one of the few horses to win the three-year-old Triple Crown. Made up of the Rosehill Guineas, Canterbury / Randwick Guineas and the Derby, it was formally recognised by the Sydney Turf Club in 1980 and a bonus offered to the owner/s of the winner who managed all three. Since then, only two horses have managed the Triple Crown – Octagonal (1996) and It’s A Dundeel (2013). Prior to the recognition in 1980, the other horses who had taken the Crown were Moorland (1943), and Imagele (1973).
Prince Delville in 1954 was Ray Selkrig’s first win in the Derby. He would follow it up ten years later on Royal Sovereign (1964), Swift Peter (1967) and Gold Brick (1972). His 1964 win on Royal Sovereign gave him three Derbies in the same year as he rode Royal Sovereign to victory in the VRC and the Queensland Derby. A remarkable feat.
The switch from spring to autumn took place in 1978. The AJC Committee decided that transferring the race to later in the season would provide the race with more significance. Certainly, the first race in autumn in 1979 gave racegoers much to talk about. Double Century was first past the post but a successful protest by Brent Thomson on Dulcify gave the latter the win. Dulcify would go on to win the Cox Plate, though an injury in the Melbourne Cup finished his career.
The 1980s gave people plenty to cheer over with winners including Beau Zam (1988), Research (1989), and Dr Grace (1990). Lee Freedman had two Derby wins in the 1990s with Naturalism and Mahogany. He would gain another Derby in 2002 when Don Eduardo crossed to win. In 1998, Gold Guru took the race from Tie The Knot and Northern Drake. Darren Beadman and John Hawkes paired up to win two years running with Headturner in 2006 and Fiumicino (NZ) in 2007, having already had success together with Octagonal.
In 2011, Shamrocker became the first filly to win the Derby since Research crossed to win in 1989. New Zealand pair Trent Busuttin and Natalie Young made Derby history when Tavago (NZ) won in 2016. Natalie Young was the first female trainer to win the Derby. Gwenda Markwell became the second when Angel Of Truth crossed 3.3 lengths ahead of Madison County (NZ).
Explosive Jack won a thrilling edition of the Group 1 race in 2021 for the Ciaron-Maher and David Eustace training partnership.
Learn more about the Australian Derby here.