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Top five Epsom Derbys since the turn of the Millennium

A wonderful view of the runners in the Epsom Derby.

Our expert looks through all the Derby since the turn of the century and lists his top five, judging by the race itself and what the entrants went onto achieve.

On the first Saturday in June, Epsom Downs welcomes a passionate crowd of racegoers through its gates to watch the most famous flat race on the planet – the Epsom Derby. The history of the Derby stretched back to the late 1700s and some of the finest flat horses ever to grace the sport have entered the realms of immortality by claiming glory in this prestigious contest.

With this years’ Derby just around the corner, many are trying to predict whether this year's crop of colts will be able to emulate the incredible achievements we have witnessed on the hallowed turf at Epsom. We’ve examined ever Derby since the year 2000, looking at the winner’s performance and what the entrants achieved in subsequent seasons to come up with this top five.

Top Five Epsom Derbys

5) 2002 – High Chaparral

The betting suggested the 2002 Derby would be a battle between two of Aidan O’Brien’s stable stars and that’s exactly what happened at Epsom. 

Entering the home straight, legendary jockey Mick Kinane pushed favourite Hawk Wing to the head of the pack, eyeballing heir to his throne, Johnny Murtagh on second-favourite High Chaparral. High Chaparral got first run on his stablemate down the inside rail and Hawk Wing failed to reel in his stablemate, with Murtagh’s mount running out a narrow victor after a titanic tussle down the hill.

High Chaparral travelled to Leopardstown to win the Irish Derby on his following run, before ending his three-year-old campaign with a tremendous victory in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. O’Brien sent his star to stud soon after a tremendous Classic campaign and High Chaparral established himself as one of the best sires in the business - spawning many Group One winners in Europe and down in Australia and New Zealand, whilst fathering 2017 Melbourne Cup winner, Rekindling.

Runner-up Hawk Wing didn’t dwell too much on that defeat, scoring in the Coral-Eclipse on his very next start before claiming Lockinge Stakes glory during 2003. Moon Ballad couldn’t lay a glove on the two Ballydoyle runners, finishing a twelve length third, but Saeed Bin Suroor’s colt boosted the Derby form by claiming a spectacular victory in that season’s Hong Kong Vase.

4) 2008 – New Approach

After coming up short of Henrythenavigator in both the British and Irish 2000 Guineas, Jim Bolger made the late decision to throw New Approach into the Epsom Derby. The usual front-runner pulled hard in the opening stages, forcing Kevin Manning to drop his mount to the rear of the field. Manning weaved a path through the traffic entering the home straight and once he grabbed the inside rail, New Approach stayed on magnificently to score a sensational victory.

Despite proving his staying ability over the Derby distance, Bolger made the shrewd move to drop New Approach back in trip during the rest of the season. Back-to-back victories in the British and Irish Champion Stakes led to New Approach heading into blissful retirement at stud, where he went on to sire 2000 Guineas winner Dawn Approach and future Derby runner-up, Libertarian.

Tartan Bearer was produced perfectly by Ryan Moore and pushed New Approach all the way to the line. He went onto finish second in two further Group Ones, before claiming victory in the Gordon Richards Stakes. Derby favourite, Casual Conquest had to settle for third, but Dermot Weld’s colt righted that wrong with a superb triumph in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh.

Rio De La Plata ran well to finish fifth at Epsom and would later become a dual-Group One winner in Italy. Mick Kinane’s mount, Frozen Fire was a well-beaten eleventh in the Derby, but he turned the Epsom form on its head by beating Casual Conquest and Tartan Bearer in the Irish equivalent three weeks’ later.

3) 2009 – Sea The Stars

All eyes were on Aidan O’Brien entering the 2009 Derby, with the Ballydoyle maestro saddling six of the 12 entrants. Mick Kinane, usually employed by Ballydoyle, was permitted to renew his partnership with John Oxx’s Sea The Stars, who had won the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket on his only start that season.

The Ballydoyle stablemates tried to set the race up for favourite Fame And Glory, who tried to make a move with three furlongs to travel. Yet, it was Kinane and Sea The Stars who hit the front first and the paid held on brilliantly to claim a famous win.

Sea The Stars would go onto establish himself as one of the greatest flat horses in recent history, winning the Eclipse, the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l’Arc de Triumph. He was retired to stud at the end of his three-year-old campaign and has become a precocious sire, producing 2014 Oaks winner Taghrooda and Harzand, who won the Derby two years later.

There was no shame in Fame And Glory’s runner-up finish in the Derby and he went on to enjoy a stunning career in his own right. O’Brien’s colt won the Irish Derby on his very next start, before powering to victory in prestigious races like the Tattersalls Gold Cup, the Coronation Cup and even the two-and-a-half-mile Royal Ascot Gold Cup.

Left floundering in fourth at Epsom was Rip Van Winkle, but he also went on to boost Sea The Stars’ victory. With Johnny Murtagh in the saddle, Rip Van Winkle won the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot, before scoring in the Juddmonte International as a four-year-old the following season.

2) 2007 – Authorized

Fan’s favourite, Frankie Dettori had come agonizingly close to winning the Derby a couple of times during his long career, but his time in the limelight finally came in 2007. Peter Chapple-Hyam’s charge went into the race as the 5/4 favourite and Dettori gave his mount a confident ride, cruising around the outside of a talented pack and bolting clear in the closing stages to score a stunning five length victory.

Authorized then attempted to become the first Derby winner to win the Eclipse at Sandown, but had to settle for second behind George Washington. He did, however, managed to break the curse of the Derby winner that had set in after 2002 by winning the Juddmonte International Stakes, before embarking on a second career as a successful sire.

Eagle Mountain tracked Authorized move in the Derby and ran on well to finish second. Aidan O’Brien sent his colt to Sha Tin later in the season, where he claimed an excellent victory in the Hong Kong Cup. Staying on well for third at Epsom was John Gosden’s Lucarno, who scored a tremendous victory in the final Classic that season, the St Leger at Doncaster.

Wayne Lordan guided Soldier Of Fortune to fifth in the Derby and the Ballydoyle representative went on to win the Irish Derby next time out before scoring in the following season’s Coronation Cup. Helene Mascott made smooth late progress to claim sixth in the Derby and later became a great success in Asia, claiming multiple Group One honours out in Hong Kong.

1) 2005 – Motivator

The highlight of Michael Bell’s training career came at Epsom Downs in 2005, where he saddled Motivator before the favourite took to the line in the Derby. Murtagh stalked the pacesetters and, as a quality field bunch up behind, he asked Motivator to make his move. In the blink of an eye, the Dante winner had pulled effortlessly away from his rivals, scorching down the home straight to claim an incredible five length victory.

Although he failed to win another race after entering the Epsom winners’ enclosure, Motivator’s performances will always be remembered as one of the best in the history of the Derby. Bell’s stable star enjoyed a successful career as a sire, with all-conquering French heroine and dual-Arc winner, Treve the most famous of his many offspring.

Runner-up, Walk In The Park could never live up to the heights of his performance at Epsom, going onto become a top sire in the jumps arena, producing multiple Grade One winner's Min and Douvan. Frankie Dettori could finish no closer than third on Irish Guineas winner Dubawi, but he would go onto claim Group One glory in France before becoming one of the best sires on the planet.

Fourth-placed Fracas and sixth-placed Hatton enjoyed long careers, during which they claimed several Listed and Grouped honours. The Geezer could only finish tenth in the Derby, but David Elsworth’s charge improved greatly with a step up in distance, winning the Gordon Stakes at Goodwood before pushing Scorpion all the way to the line in the St Leger.

Oratoria’s name was barely mentioned in the commentary for the Derby, where Aidan O’Brien’s charge laboured over the line in tenth. After claiming a surprise victory in the Coral-Eclipse, Oratoria gained Derby revenge by heading Motivator in Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown, confirming the 2005 Derby’s position as one of the best in this Classic’s storied history.

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Top five Epsom Derbys since the turn of the Millennium

Our expert looks through all the Derby since the turn of the century and lists his top five, judging by the race itself and what the entrants went onto achieve.

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