The Classic Races

Björn Eklund, Nalle Rosenkjær 1851—Jean Louis Théodore Géricault. Painting at Le Louvre in Paris

In racing, you’ll often hear expressions like “The Classics” or “the Classic races.” To be a Classic winner is extremely meriting to a racehorse and has a huge impact on its marketing–especially in the auction catalogues. So what is hiding behind those phrases?

 

Like much else in racing the classic races origins from the 18th century in England, when the races were open to all age groups and mostly run over long distances. As a result, the older and stronger horses usually won, and the breeders grew opposed to see their young horses thrashed. For the sake of future breeding as well as being able to sell their youngsters, the St. Leger was instituted in 1779. It was to be run in the autumn over 3200 meters (2 miles) and for 3-year-olds only.

Three years later, it was followed by a somewhat shorter race for 3-year-old fillies only. The race run over 2400 meters (1½ miles) was named the Oaks and was to be run at an earlier stage than the St. Leger. Just one year later this new race was followed by the Derby. Run over the same distance and on the same course as the Oaks, the Derby was, however, open to fillies and colts both.

Some 20 years later the Englishmen saw a need for their 3-year-old colts to have race in the spring. Run over the shorter distance of 1600 meters (1 mile), it was named The 2000 Guineas. An equivalent was instituted the following year for fillies only and named the 1000 Guineas.

Thus there was now a series of five races for 3-year-olds and ranging in distance from 1600 meters to 3200. These were be called the Classics.

The concept has been adopted all over the world, and today the Classic series still consists of five races for 3-year-olds, carrying equal weights, except for the gender allowance given fillies in the three races open to both sexes.

In most countries a Thoroughbred from any country can participate. The idea is that the best should meet the best in what is fundamentally a competition among breeders.

A horse winning the three Classic races for colts and fillies alike–namely the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger–is dubbed a Triple Crown winner.

A total of 15 horses have won the English Triple Crown. In our competitive and specialized days, it is nigh impossible, and Nijinsky II was the latest back in 1970. Hoewever, Camelot came close in 2012.

Sometimes you’ll hear of the Filly Triple Crown, which consists of the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger. It was last won by Oh So Sharp in England 1985.

The American Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness- and the Belmont Stakes. All in all 12 horses have won it. The 70s were a golden decade and produced three of the winners: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). The first horse to win since 1978 was American Pharoah in 2015 who ended a 37 long wait.

 

The Classics at a glance:

    • 2000 Guineas – 1 mile (1.600 m)
    • 1.000 Guineas – Fillies only – 1 mile (1.600 m)
    • Oaks – Fillies only – 1 mile 4 F (1 1/2 mile or 2.400 m)
    • Derby – 1 mile 4 F (1 1/2 mile or 2.400 m)
    • St Leger – 1 mile 6 F (1 3/8 mile or 2.800 m)
  • The legendary Frankel won the 2000 Guineas in a performance described as “one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse.
    The legendary Frankel won the 2000 Guineas in a performance described as “one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse.

    2000 Guineas

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    UK- 2000 Guineas Stakes (G1) Newmarket (May) 1609 m 1809
    IRE- Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) Curragh (May) 1609 m 1921
    FR- Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1) Longchamp (May) 1600 m 1840
    GER- Mehl-Mühlens-Rennen (G2) Köln (May) 1600 m 1871
    ITA- Premio Parioli (G3) Capannelle (April/May) 1600 m 1981
    SWE- Jockeyklubbens Jubileumslöpning Täby (June) 1600 m 1922
    TY- Erkek Tay Deneme Veliefendi/Istanbul (June) 1600 m 1956
    JP- Satsuki Sho (G1) Nakayama (April) 1800 m 1939
    UAE- 2000 Guineas (G3) Dubai (Feb) 1600 m 2000
    NZ- New Zealand 2000 Guineas Christchurch (Nov) 1600 m 1973
    ARG- Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos Bueonos Aires (Sept) 1609 m 1895
    CHI- Dos Mil Guineas (G1) Santiago (Sep) 1600 m N/A

     

    The 2000 Guineas starts off the Classic season in most countries. Run for the first time in England 1809 over 1600 meters,  it’s for fillies and colts both. Some countries allow geldings as well, while other countries—like England—do not. Since the introduction of the 1000 Guineas, which is the fillies only equivalent, many fillies do not compete in this race. The two races are traditionally run within just a few days of each other.

    The 2000 Guineas is named after it’s original purse. A guinea is an old monetary standard, but it is still used in connection with some auctions. One guinea is £1 and a shilling or £1,05. The purse has, of course, swelled during the years, and in 2013 there was  £400,000 waiting at the line of Newmarket’s straight Rowley Mile.

    One guinea is £1 and one shilling or  £1.05.

    The 2000 Guineas is regarded as a great opportunity to see which horse may become the stars of the rest of the season. Punters are often offered good value for their fancies, as many of the horses have been but lightly raced so early in the season. One often has to rely on the 2-year-old form, which can be tricky in itself. In 2012 Camelot was the latest to pull off the English 2000 Guineas/Derby double.

    The second oldest 2000 Guineas is the French Poule d’Essai des Poulains, which was run at Champs de Mars for 17 years before it became a fixture at Longchamp in 1857.

    Lovely Zarkava won the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches ("1000 Guineas") and the Prix de Diane ("Oaks") before ending her racing career by wining the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as a three year old to do so in 24 years. Here with her 2016 colt by Invincible Spirit! (Photo Aga Kahn Studs)
    Lovely Zarkava won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (”1000 Guineas”) and the Prix de Diane (”Oaks”) before ending her racing career by wining the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a three year old to do so in 24 years. Here with her 2016 colt by Invincible Spirit! (Photo Aga Kahn Studs)

    1000 Guineas

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:
    UK- 1000 Guineas Stakes (G1) Newmarket (May) 1609 m 1814
    IRE- Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) Curragh (May) 1609 m 1922
    FR- Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (G1) Longchamp (May) 1600 m 1883
    GER- German 1000 Guineas (G2) Düsseldorf (April/May) 1600 m 1919
    ITA- Premio Regina Elena (G3) Capannelle (May) 1600 m 1981
    SWE- Dianalöpning Täby (June) 1600 m 1944
    TY- Disi Tay Deneme Veliefendi/Istanbul (May) 1600 m 1956
    JP- Oka Sho (G1) Hanshin (April) 1600 m 1939
    UAE- 1000 Guineas (L) Dubai (Feb) 1600 m 2000
    NZ- New Zealand 1000 Guineas Christchurch (Nov) 1600 m 1973
    ARG- Gran Premio Polla de Potrancas Buenos Aires (Sept) 1600 m 1895

     

    The first ever 1000 Guineas was run in England, five years after the introduction of the 2000 Guineas under the direction of Sir Charles Bunbury. Same course and same distance, but for fillies only and for half the purse. Equality has since caught up, though, and today the purse is the same in both races. Traditionally the two races were run with only four days between them. Four fillies have managed to win both races, nevertheless. Crucifix in 1840, Formosa in 1868, Pilgrimage in 1878, and the last to do it was Sceptre in 1902. Nowadays the two races are run on consecutive days making that an impossible feat.

    Same course and same distance, but for fillies only and for half the purse.

    Again France was the first country to follow suit, staging the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches in 1883.

    In Sweden, the 1000 Guineas. is called Dianalöpning. This is rather confusing, as that name indicates the Oaks in both France and Germany.

     

    Ouija Board (owned by Lord Derby) won the Oaks in bort Ireland and the UK. She later went on to win two Breeders' Cup and The Hong Kong Vase.
    Ouija Board (owned by Lord Derby) won the Oaks in both Ireland and the UK. She later went on to win two Breeders’ Cup and The Hong Kong Vase.

    Oaks

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    GB- Oaks Stakes (G1) Epsom (June) 2400 m 1779
    IRE- Irish Oaks (G1) Curragh (July) 2400 m 1895
    FR- Prix de Diane (G1) Chantilly (June) 2400 m 1843
    GER- Preis der Diana (G1) Düsseldorf (aug) 2200 m 1857
    ITA- Oaks d’Italia (G2) San Siro (June) 2200 m 1920
    SWE- Svenskt Oaks Jägersro/Malmö (July) 2400 m 1950
    TY- Kisrak Veliefendi/Istanbul (June) 2100 m 1956
    JP- Yushun Himba (G1) Tokyo (May) 2400 m 1956
    UAE- Oaks (G3) Meydan (Feb) 1900 m 2000
    USA- Kentucky Oaks (G1)* Churchill Downs (May) 1800 m 1875
    BRZ- Grande Premio Diana (G1) Rio de Janeiro (May) 2000 m 1932
    AUS- Australian Oaks (G1) Randwick/Sidney (April) 2400 m 1885

     

    The Oaks was established in 1779 as the second of the Classic races. The S:t Leger being the first. Run at Epsom Downs for fillies only, it was the brainchild of the 12th Earl of Derby. The race was named for a house Lord Derby leased in Epsom because it was devised during a dinner party at the estate. Lord Derby succeeded in  winning the first edition with Bridget. The black and white colours were to win the race again in 2004, when Ouija Board scored for the 19th Earl of Derby. The Oaks and its counterpart the Derby, are both run over 2400 meters, and three fillies have won both, with the latest being Fifinella back in 1916. As the two races now are run on consecutive days, she may well be the last, too.

    The 100,000 spectators make it the second biggest race day in the States.

    The Oaks and the Derby are the only of the Classic names to win acclaim in the USA. There are quite a few races run under the name of the Oaks to choose from, but the Kentucky Oaks first run in 1875 is undoubtedly the Oaks. Run one day prior to the Kentucky Derby, its 100,000 spectators make it the second biggest race day in the United States. The original distance of 1½ miles has since been cut to 9 furlongs, and it can be argued that the shorter distance makes it more of a 1000 Guineas than an Oaks.

     

     

    The Derby

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    USA Kentucky Derby* (G1) Churchil Downs (May) 2000 m 1875
    UK Epsom Derby (G1) Epsom (June) 2400 m 1780
    IRE Irish Derby (G1) Curragh (June/July) 2400 m 1866
    FR Prix du Jockey-Club (G1) Chantilly/Paris (June) 2100 m 1836
    GER Deutsches Derby (G1) Hamburg (June) 2400 m 1869
    ITA Derby Italiano (G1) Capannelle (May)2200 m1884
    HK Hong Kong Derby** Sha Tin (March) 2000 m 1873
    JP Tokyo Yüshun (G1) Tokyo (May/June) 2400 m 1932
    AUS Australian Derby (G1) Randwick/Sidney (April) 2400 m 1861
    NZ New Zealand Derby Auckland (March) 2400 m 1860
    UAE UAE Derby (G2) Dubai (March) 1900 m 2000
    CHI El Derby (G1) Vina de Mar (Feb) 2400 m 1885

    *one of several **4-year-olds

     

  • The St. Leger and the Oaks were huge successes in England, and so in 1790 the race whose name was destined to be connected with other sporting events of high dignity was instituted. The Derby. In everyday language a Derby can be anything from a showjumping competition to a game between two local football sides. However, a Derby proper is a race over at least 2000 meters for 3-year-olds Thoroughbred colts and fillies.While some countries allow geldings, some like Great Britain consider the Derby such an important race for determining breeding value that they are not allowed.The decision to create the Derby was taken during the party after the first Oaks had been run in 1779. One year later, the world’s first-ever Derby was run at Epsom. It was won by Diomed with Sam Arnull up. As the Derby just as well could have been named the Bunbury, it’s the irony of fate that the proud owner was a certain Charles Bunbury.There are two different tales being told about how the name of the Derby came to be.One is that Lord Derby and Bunbury rode a match between themselves, and the new race was to be named in the honour of the winner. The other is that the two friends tossed a coin. Whatever the true story, Lord Derby won and was imortalized through the name of the race.The Derby is also sometimes dubbed the Blue Riband. This expression is English, too, and derives from the famous The Most Noble Order of The Garter. The colour of it’s riband is blue, and it was the English prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who came up with it in a letter to George Bentinck.

    Whatever the true story, Lord Derby won and was imortalized through the name of the race.

    Bentinck was one of the bigwigs in English racing, and he is reputed to be behind the introduction of racing colours as well as numbercloths.

    Everyone in racing dreams of winning the Derby, but to most it stays a dream.

    Bentinck had in vain tried to win the English Derby his entire life, and in 1848 his Surplice won.Unfortunately, while he bred the horse, he also sold him as a yearling and was devastated. It was in a commiserating letter to his friend that Disraeli first called the Derby “the Blue Riband of the Turf.”

    The Derby concept was exported at an early stage, and in 1866 Ireland was the first country to follow suit. It crossed the Atlantic, too, and in 1875 the first edition of what was to become one of the most media-exposed horse races in the world was ridden in Kentucky.

    Originally the Kentucky Derby was contested at the traditional 1 1/2 miles, but in 1896 it was reduced to 1 1/4 miles and remains that distance to this day. Like the Kentucky Oaks, the Derby is held at the beginning of May, whereas Derby time in most other countries in the Northern Hemisphere is either June or July.

     

    Around 1800 Thomas Rowlandson produced four watercolours showing the various stages of an early St Leger - The world's oldest Classic Race.
    Around 1800 Thomas Rowlandson produced four watercolours showing the various stages of an early St Leger – The world’s oldest Classic Race.

    St. Leger

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:
    GB- St. Leger Stakes (G1) Doncaster (Sept) 2937 m 1776
    IRE- Irish St. Leger (G1) Curragh (Sept) 2800 m* 1915
    FR- Prix Royal Oak (G1) Longchamp (Sept) 3100 m* 1861
    TY- Deutsches St. Leger (G3) Dortmund (Sept/Oct) 2800 m* 1940
    ITA- St. Leger Italiano (G3) San Siro (Sept) 2800 m* 1921
    DK- Dansk St. Leger Klampenborg (Sept) 2800 m* 1937
    NO- Norsk St. Leger Øvrevoll (Oct) 2800 m 1960
    SWE- Svenskt St. Leger Bro Park (Oct) 2800 m 1927
    PL- Nagroda St. Leger Warzaw (Sept) 2800 m N/A
    TY- Ankara Stakes Ankara (Sept) 2800 m 1950
    JP- Kikuka Sho (G1) Kyoto (Oct) 3000 m 1938
    CHI- St. Leger (G1) Santiago (March) 2200 m 1886

     

    The St. Leger may be the least known of the Classic races, but it is, in fact, the oldest. The first ever St. Leger was ridden at Doncaster in 1776. Thought up by Colonel Anthony St. Leger, a former member of Parliament, the race was meant to give the 3-year-olds their own race. Arranged by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham, it was to be run in the autumn over a distance of 3200 meters.

    When the race was to have a name, someone suggested The Rockingham Stakes. The Marquis declined and claimed it should be named after his friend St. Leger, who had, after all come up with the idea. The first edition was won by Allabaculia, who was owned by the Marquis of Rockingham, while the second-placed horse belonged to St. Leger.

    The original distance of 3200 meters was later to be altered to 2937 meters (1 mile 6 furlongs and 132 yards), while it’s run over 2800 meters (1 mile 6 furlongs) in most other countries. Run at the back end of the season, it is nowadays a chance for the late developers to show their staying power. In this day and age, with breeding leaning more toward speed, many countries have found it necessary to open The St. Leger up to for 4-year-olds to secure a strong field.

    Run at the back end of the season, it is nowadays a chance for the late developers to show their staying power.

    As most of the world’s big races are run over distances between 2000 and 2400 meters, some, however, think that extreme staying merits work to the disadvantage of a sire. Long distance races have lost a bit of their status, and so has the St. Leger, though in England it carries a bigger purse than either the 1000 and the 2000 Guineas. In many of the big racing countries the real top notch horses tend to avoid the St. Leger and seek their fortune in the French Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe instead.

     

     

     

GET GALLOP! SUBSCRIBE NOW!

4 ISSUES / YEAR

with the racing stories you love to read and the photos you love to see. Delivered via 1st Class Mail anywhere in the world.
For more offers please visit shop.gallop-magazine.com

$30 per year (the equivalent of £20 or €25)

Gallop Magazine
First issue