One of the most important factors in deciding prices for a big race like the Derby is how the contenders perform in their preparation races. So for research purposes I travelled over to Leopardstown in Ireland to see a race that was then called the Nijinsky Stakes and is now called the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes.
The main interest in the race was a horse called Golden Fleece, a son of the great Derby-winner Nijinsky which was trained by the great Irish handler Vincent O'Brien and which had been touted by his countrymen throughout the winter as their best prospect for the Derby.
Golden Fleece won the race all right, but I was not particularly impressed by what I'd seen. I was convinced that the second horse home, Assert, would have had a good chance of winning the race if his jockey had just shaken the reins a little more, and got a better effort out of him.
I was standing on the rails watching the race with Mickey Rogers, a great man who trained two Derby winners himself, and one of the best judges of a horse there ever was. Mickey turned to me as Golden Fleece passed the post and said: "We've been lucky men today - we've seen the Derby winner." But I was stubborn, and stuck to my view that the race had not been a truly competitive trial.
So we at Ladbrokes consistently took bets on Golden Fleece, convinced that the form of the race would not stand up. On Derby day things seemed to be going our way: Golden Fleece was not given the best of rides by Pat Eddery, was not prominent as the field came around Tattenham Corner and failed to make much impact as the horses ran down the finishing straight. But then, very much in the manner of this year's Derby winner, Lammtarra, Golden Fleece suddenly sprouted wings and that was it: he won by three lengths from Touching Wood, and we lost a great deal of money.
There were one or two compensations: for my wallet when Assert, which I had backed, trotted up in the French Derby the following Sunday; and for my judgement, when he proved to be a really class horse by winning not just the French Derby but the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup at York by no less than seven lengths.
Two years later, funnily enough, the whole scenario was repeated when El Gran Senor narrowly defeated Sadler's Wells in a Derby trial. I had to go on Channel 4 television shortly afterwards - this was at the Newmarket Craven meeting - and Lord Oaksey suggested to me that Sadler's Wells could easily have won the race if he had been given a slightly harder ride. But I wasn't going to fall for the same trick that time. I was convinced that Lord Oaksey had made the same mistake that I had made in 1982. I defended Ladbrokes' decision to make El Gran Senor favourite for the Derby, and although he was narrowly beaten by Secreto on the big day the horse went on to be a champion.
The Golden Fleece experience taught me not to be adamant, not to be too emotive when reacting to a race; nowadays I try to be more considered in my judgements.Reuse content