Sixty years on from 'national disaster' of Tudor Minstrel; Michael Church, official historian of the Epsom Derby, recalls one of the biggest shock defeats the race has seen - one that serves as a cautionary tale for Authorized and Dettori.
NEXT month marks the 60th anniversary of Pearl Diver's Derby victory. But, for those Turfites who were in action then, including this writer - albeit as an 11-year-old boy - 1947 is remembered as the year Tudor Minstrel didn't win the Derby. In fact, some of the press went so far as to report the race in the tone of a national disaster.
Before 1947, only four French-bred horses had won the Derby: Gladiateur (1865), Durbar (1914), Mahmoud (1936) and Bois Roussel (1938). Between 1947 and 1950, the tally increased by three, beginning with Pearl Diver. A stoutly made colt, by Vatellor out of Pearl Cap, Pearl Diver was bred by Edward Esmond. On Esmond's death in 1945, the colt passed to his son-in-law Baron Geoffroy de Waldner, a banker who had served with the US Army in World War II.
Trained by Percy Carter at Chantilly, Pearl Diver ran twice as a juvenile. The following spring, he finished second to the future 1,000 Guineas and Oaks winner Imprudence in the Prix Ladas, third in the Prix Jean Prat, and won the 1m4f Prix Matchem on the disqualification of Timor. In mid-May, Baron de Waldner, keen to have a runner in the Derby, sent Pearl Diver to Newmarket trainer Claude Halsey to complete his preparation. But, it was Tudor Minstrel who had been making all the racing headlines.
Unbeaten in six races, culminating in an eight-length victory in the 2,000 Guineas, Tudor Minstrel was heralded as "the horse of the century". His Derby price of 4-7 had been supported down from 7-1 the previous year, and the public were, to a man, behind both the horse, and jockey Gordon Richards. After continually picking the wrong horse when given the choice of mounts, it now had to be 'Gordon's Year' - rather as 2007 is perceived as the year Frankie Dettori will finally break his Derby hoodoo.
Second-favourite at 13-2 was the Gaekwar of Baroda's Sayajirao - third in the Guineas, winner of the Lingfield Derby Trial and a brother to 1945 Derby winner Dante. There was also some sentimental money for Grand Weather at 100-6, due to the race being run in a heatwave! Pearl Diver went to post at odds of 40-1.
Captain Allison sent off the field of 15 to a perfect start, with Blue Coral taking them along from Bhishma. Tudor Minstrel was well placed on the outside but, leading with his off-fore and fighting for his head, he was proving a difficult ride. Eventually, Richards allowed him to bowl along in front, keeping company with Pearl Diver at the top of the hill. Rounding Tattenham Corner, Tudor Minstrel tried to move to the outside again, but by now, the struggle had taken away his brilliant speed. A furlong into the straight, Pearl Diver took up the running, going on to win by four lengths, with Migoli running on to take second place, three-quarters of a length ahead of Sayajirao. Tudor Minstrel was fourth.
In the aftermath, Richards revealed in his autobiography, My Story: "Then the letters began to arrive. Hundreds of them, and telegrams as well. Some incredibly impertinent people even telephoned. I was told that I had pulled the horse's head off. The kindest suggested that I was incapable of riding a donkey."
Tudor Minstrel went on to become the outstanding miler of his day. Phil Bull, creator of Timeform, said: "I have seen several exceptionally speedy horses, including The Tetrarch's daughter Mumtaz Mahal, but I am inclined to believe that Tudor Minstrel is the fastest of the lot - certainly the fastest I have ever timed."
To obtain The Derby Stakes - The Complete History, 1780-2006 by Michael Church, price pounds 85, telephone Raceform on 01635 578080 or visit www.racingpost.co.uk/shop
Tudor Minstrel and Gordon Richards after their 2,000 Guineas victory