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Newmarket and the Derby


Every year, the first weekend in June is a significant one given that the eyes of the horseracing world are all on the famed Epsom Downs and the outcome of the Derby, arguably the most highly sought after prize in racing. Any trainer, jockey, owner or stable lad will tell you that being connected to a Derby winner is a phenomenal experience and often a life-changing one!

Given that Newmarket is the Home of Horseracing it makes sense that the Derby is very much part of the town’s history. The 2019 renewal sees three horses trained in or around Newmarket representing the town with Hiroshima from the John Ryan Stable, Humanitarian trained by John Gosden and Line of Duty from the Moulton Paddocks yard of Charlie Appleby all taking their places. Last year, Newamrket had reason to cheer as Masar claimed glory and some might not know but he went through a  key piece of work on the famed Limekilns gallops before his date with destiny.

There are some fantastic tales and sights around town that reveal a lot about Newmarket’s connection to the Derby so we thought we’d put together a list of some of the notable ones.

The role of Sir Charles Bunbury

History tells us that the Derby came about in 1779 during a celebration after the running of the first ever Oaks. Legend tells us that the name of the race was a result of a coin toss between two protagonists in the shape of the 12th earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury who at that time was a Steward of the Jockey Club.

While Bunbury was not able to have the race named after him he does have the honour of owning the first ever winner of the race when Diomed claimed victory in the first running on Thursday 4th May 1780 with the race run over a distance of a mile.

Sir Bunbury would have the Bunbury Cup, run at Newmarket, named in his honour as well as one of the yards on The National Stud and there are also items of interest when going on a tour around the Jockey Club Rooms that feature

The Boy’s Grave

This is a bit of a sad tale involving a young shepherd who was so distraught at the thought of having lost a sheep that that he ended up taking his own life. Legend has it that it was a simple case of miscounting the flock. The Boy’s Grave can be found on the Moulton Road when heading out of Newmarket, not far from Godolphin’s Moulton Paddocks operation. It is said that whichever colours adorn the Boy’s Grave on the first Saturday in June will be the colours carried to victory in the Derby that year.

Palace House and the Derby

One of Newmarket’s finest attractions, Palace House, has links to the Derby  with a number of horses trained from the site going to win this epic race. When Macaroni won the Derby in 1863 he was the first winner trained in Newmarket since 1844 and this feat went some way in establishing Newmarket as a major training centre. James ‘Jem’ Godding was responsible for training Macaroni having moved to Palace House in 1859.

It took a few years for another winner with ties to Palace House to emerge victorious  but Kisber (1876) and Sir Bevys (1879) both achieved the feat for trainer Joseph Hayhoe. There would be one more Derby winner, a significant one given that it was owned by Leopold de Rothschild, in 1904 when St Amant followed up a victory in the 2,000 Guineas. It was a first and only Derby winner for Rothschild.

The Legends of the Turf, Hyperion and Mill Reef

There have been many horses that have achieved legendary status during their time in training in Newmarket. Hyperion and Mill Reef are two such horses and both have the distinction of  being immortalised in bronze. If you ever walk down the High Street and past the Jockey Club Rooms you will see Hyperion standing proudly. Visit the Stallion Unit during a National Stud Tour and you will see the Mill Reef statue and his resting place.

Hyperion made light work of the field in 1933, winning the Derby by four lengths under Tommy Weston for trainer George Lambton. Hyperion’s performances on the track were remarkable given his diminutive size and this can be seen by visiting Palace House and seeing the display of this champion’s skeleton.

Mill Reef strode to victory in the 1971 renewal of the race for trainer Ian Balding and jockey Geoff Lewis. His winning margin is recorded as being two lengths. In a Sporting Life article published ahead of the 2019 renewal, his jockey described the first time he rode Mill Reef in a race.

“When I first rode him at Salisbury, the trainer said to me, he’s been slow out of the gates, I don’t know how good he is because my two-year olds aren’t very good. Anyway, he flew out of the gate first out and I was five in front before you know it. So when I came back in I said to the trainer, “I hope you’ve got one quicker out of the gates than this, because if this is slow I don’t know what you’ve got!”

The Derby in the War Years

There have been 10 occasions when the Derby has not been run at Epsom during its magnificent history and all of those fell during the War Years. Between 1915 and 1918 and 1940 to 1945 the Derby was run at Newmarket and these races are known as the New Derby.

There you have it, some fantastic tales that link Newmarket and the Derby together. A fantastic racing town and its role with a fantastic race. Want to learn more about Newmarket’s history? Then take a look at the History and Heritage Walking Tour by clicking here.