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What are the Classics?

What are the Classics?
© Racing Post / cranhamphoto.com
Owen Goulding
Thursday 7th February 2019

The Classics are a series of British flat races run every year for three-year-old horses. They are the highest prestige races in the United Kingdom, and they are the chosen target of the best of the business. They were at one point a separate group of races, which were slowly interlinked by their prestige and began to be grouped together from around the mid-1860s.

2000 Guineas

There are five Classics in the British season, starting with the 2,000 Guineas, a race run over a mile, or eight furlongs, which takes place in late April or early May every year at Newmarket, on their Rowley Mile course. It has been run every year since 1809, when the prize money was equivalent to £2,100. The race has been won by some of the best colts to have graced British racing, recent winners including Frankel in 2011, Sea The Stars in 2009, Dancing Brave in 1986 and Nijinsky in 1970. 2018’s edition, worth £500,000, was won by Saxon Warrior, the Aidan O’Brien-trained colt who was earmarked for the Triple Crown, of which there will be more later.

1000 Guineas

The second Classic of the season comes almost immediately after the 2,000 Guineas. The 1,000 Guineas, specifically for fillies, has taken place since 1814 the day after the aforementioned race. It is a similarly prestigious race that has an impressive roll of honour, including Oh So Sharp, who completed the FIllies’ Triple Crown in 1985, and Kazzia and Minding in more recent years. They both followed 1,000 Guineas success with victory in the Oaks, a feat the former achieved in 2002 and which the latter completed in 2016. 2018’s edition was won by a rather surprising filly in Billesdon Brook, a 66/1 chance who ran out an impressive winner ahead of some better-fancied fillies for Richard Hannon and Sean Levey.

The Oaks

The order of play is switched around for the next sequence of Classics, with the fillies going first. Inaurgurated in 1779, a year before The Derby, The Oaks is a middle-distance race run over one-mile-four-furlongs at Epsom every year. A similarly impressive roll of honour to the 1,000 Guineas, featuring some of the finest fillies Britain has ever produced, none more so than Enable. She scored by a comfortable five-lengths in the driving rain, before going on to become the Dual Arc heroine that we now know her as. It was victory in the Oaks that announced her brilliance on the national scene, and she has not looked back since. The 2018 race saw the resumption of dominance by Aidan O’Brien, who has now won the Oaks seven times, the latest of which with Forever Together who was partnered by his son Donnacha to a comfortable success.

The Derby

Now held on the first Saturday of June, The Epsom Derby has been held every year since 1780. The Epsom Derby is Britain’s, and perhaps the world’s, most famous and prestigious race. Alongside this, it also ranks as Britain’s most expensive race with a purse of £1,500,000. Won an incredible nine times by Lester Piggott, between the years of 1954 and 1983, there is no race that is more synonymous with British racing than this, a race won by legends of the sport such as Sea The Stars in 2009, Galileo in 2001, the ill-fated Shergar in 1981 and the Triple Crown winner Nijinsky in 1970. This year’s edition marked a first for the Godolphin stable, who gained their first win in the race with the Charlie Appleby-trained Masar, who out-stayed numerous better-fancied runners to win comfortably.

St Leger

The final Classic of the season is both the longest-running and held over the longest trip. Inaugurated in 1776, the Doncaster St. Leger is held over a distance of one-mile-six-and-a-half furlongs, and takes place in September. Last year’s edition of the St. Leger was one that was jam-packed with class, the winner Capri having previously scored in the Irish Derby, the second Crystal Ocean has developed into one of the country’s finest Middle Distance horses, the third Stradivarius went on to win a £1,000,000 bonus that went to any horse who could win three staying events in 2018, and the fourth, Rekindling won the Melbourne Cup for Joseph O’Brien. A far sterner test than the other Classics, it remains an incredible spectacle and provides a fitting finale to the Classics, and to many Triple Crown attempts.

If victory in one of the Classics is enough to ensure greatness is bestowed upon those winning connections, nothing goes further than completing The Triple Crown. By winning one of the Guineas, either the Derby or the Oaks, and the St. Leger, fifteen colts and eight fillies have entered the annals of British racing. A feat that is becoming harder to do in the modern age, the latest winner of the Fillies’ Tripe Crown was Oh So Sharp in 1985, and the Colts’ Triple Crown was last won by the Vincent O’Brien-trained Nijinsky. It has since become something of an obsession for his namesake and successor Aidan O’Brien, who has come the closest to completing The Triple Crown in recent years with Camelot, who won both the 2,000 Guineas and The Derby, denied a chance of sporting greatness by the Godolphin-owned Encke in 2012. Many had earmarked the Ballydoyle-inmate Saxon Warrior for Triple Crown success after he scored authoritatively in the 2,000 Guineas this year. Judged on pedigree, he looked sure to relish the step up in trip to twelve furlongs, and it was thought that the St. Leger’s one-mile-six trip would also be within his reach, however this was a forlorn hope, as he struggled for stamina up the home straight and could only manage fourth. Any hope of winning the St. Leger were dashed that day, and it was another O’Brien-trained winner who eventually came away with the last Classic of the season. Kew Gardens stayed on under a strong ride from Ryan Moore to score comfortably, and round off another season of Classic domination for the O’Brien-team.

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