Irish Derby glory: Ranking the best winners in the race’s rich history

By Swindon Link - 10 June 2024

Clubs & ActivitiesSport

The Irish Derby, held annually at the Curragh Racecourse, stands as one of the pinnacles of the flat racing calendar. This prestigious race captures the imagination of horse racing enthusiasts but is also one of the biggest contests of the season when it comes to horse racing betting.

Since its inception in 1866, the Irish Derby has been won by some of the biggest names in flat racing, each writing their own piece of history. Read on, as we remember the best winners of this illustrious race, celebrating their extraordinary achievements and lasting legacies in folklore.  

1. Shergar (1981)

The legend of Shergar transcends his tragic end, with his on-track prowess remaining the focal point of his legacy. Trained by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Lester Piggott, Shergar’s eight-length victory in the Epsom Derby was followed by an equally commanding performance in the Irish Derby. His 1981 triumph at the Curragh, marked by a four-length victory, showcased his exceptional speed and stamina, earning him a permanent place in racing lore.

2. Nijinsky (1970)

Nijinsky, trained by Vincent O'Brien and ridden by Liam Ward, is often regarded as one of the finest thoroughbreds ever to grace the turf.

His victory in the 1970 Irish Derby was another big win in his Triple Crown-winning campaign, a feat that has not been replicated since. Nijinsky's illustrious career, including wins in the 2000 Guineas, Epsom Derby and the St. Leger, alongside his dominance at the Curragh, exemplifies his extraordinary class and versatility.

3. Galileo (2001)

Aidan O'Brien's Galileo, ridden by Michael Kinane, is another titan of the turf whose influence extends beyond his racing career into his exceptional progeny.

His 2001 Irish Derby victory, coming hot on the heels of his Epsom Derby triumph, was marked by a gritty performance against top-class competition. Galileo's enduring legacy is reflected not just in his own achievements but in his status as a preeminent sire, shaping the future of horse racing for generations.

4. The Minstrel (1977)

The Minstrel, another horse trained by Vincent O'Brien and ridden by Piggott, is best remembered for his being crowned the Horse of the Year in both the United Kingdom and Ireland, and his Irish Derby win in 1977 was a key highlight of his career.  

It was a truly remarkable year for the Robert Sangster-trained horse, as he bounced back from disappointments in the British and Irish renewals of the 2000 Guineas to win both Derbies and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

5. High Chaparral (2002)

Another gem from Aidan O'Brien’s Ballydoyle stable, High Chaparral, ridden by the aforementioned Kinane, completed a memorable double with his Irish Derby victory following his success at Epsom. Known for his resilience and consistency, High Chaparral’s 2002 season was marked by top performances, including wins in the Breeders' Cup Turf and the Ballysax Stakes, underscoring his versatility and class.

6. Old Vic (1989)

Old Vic, trained by Henry Cecil and ridden by Steve Cauthen, delivered one of the most impressive Irish Derby performances in 1989. Following his emphatic win in the French Derby (Prix de Jockey Club), Old Vic dominated at the Curragh, showcasing a blend of power and grace.

The Sheikh Mohammed-owned horse went on to be the leading jump racing sire in Great Britain and Ireland in the 2007-08 season.

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