In recent years the Investec Derby has at times seemed to be monopolised by Irish-trained winners and runners. Of course that was not always the case and there was a big time gap between Secreto winning the 1984 race (beating another Irish trained colt in El Gran Senor) and the next Irish winner.
That horse was Sinndar, the first Derby winner of the new Millennium when he won the race in 2000. But he also opened to door to many more Irish trained winners.
Owned by His Highness the Aga Khan, the son of Grand Lodge was trained by John Oxx, a man who would on more than one occasion prove to have a great knack for orchestrating the career of a Classic colt, as he demonstrated with the mighty Sea The Stars almost a decade later.
As part of our build-up to the Investec Derby Course-specialist is privileged to share the memories of John Oxx on his first Derby horse Sinndar, who went on to prove himself an outstanding colt, with subsequent victories in the Irish Derby, Prix Niel and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe:
How many Derby runners had you fielded at Epsom before?
When did Sinndar first arrive at Currabeg?
“He arrived to be broken as a yearling at the beginning of October in 1998.”
Did he make an immediate impression on you through his work and demeanour and was he a straight forward horse to train as a 2 year old?
“He was a lovely looking yearling, very well balanced, with a lovely temperament and very good action. He really caught the eye from the beginning and any visitor would pick him out of the string and ask – what was that?
“He was straight forward to train, but was always a little lazy in his work and was much better on the track.”
He won twice as a juvenile – and the second of those victories came in the Group1 National Stakes. Was he head and shoulders above your other juveniles and did you tend to work him with older horses at home?
“We knew he was a nice horse and expected him to do well, but because he was lazy at home we did not realise how far ahead of the rest he actually was. Although he won the National Stakes, it did not look particularly strong form that year and he only had a rating of 105 for that win, although we thought that was a little conservative.”
How did Sinndar winter? Did he change much physically and mentally through to the spring?
“He wintered well and made normal physical improvement, but he was such a nice horse physically and had such a wonderful temperament and strong mentality that he did not need to change or improve in that regard.”
Was there a particular moment in his homework in the spring when you felt he had “arrived” as a Classic horse?
“I was happy with his work in the springtime particularly as I now knew not to expect too much from him. I only had an impression from his homework that he was a horse capable of being placed in a Derby.”
Was he a good worker at home or fairly lazy? Were there any challenges/set-backs during his preparation for Epsom?
“He had no setbacks in his preparation through the spring. He was very sound and had a great constitution and kept progressing as I would have wished.”
He got beaten in the Ballysax Stakes by Grand Finale – what do you feel was the reason and were you disappointed at that point in time?
“The Ballysax Stakes was the first point in his career that he looked to me like a horse who could win the Derby. He needed the race, I was worried about the heavy going and he was conceding 7lbs to a race fit horse who handled the going. JP Murtagh did not give him a hard race and he was only beaten narrowly, finishing well clear of the rest. I went home very happy that day.”
He then landed the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial – had he improved much between the two races and did he improve again ahead of Epsom in June?
“He only won the Derrinstown Derby Trial narrowly, but he showed a good measure of improvement from his first race to beat Bach who had won the 2000 Guineas Trial a few weeks earlier and was only beaten a head in the following years Eclipse Stakes. Sinndar gave him 7lbs. It was obvious that he was improving by 5-7 lbs every time he ran and I was hopeful that if he maintained this sort of progress he could fight out the finish at Epsom. Not only did he do that, but he kept improving by the same margin every time he ran throughout the season, ending up with a rating of 132. That’s what great horses do.”
Did you do anything different with your training to prepare Sinndar for the undulations and Tattenham Corner at Epsom?
“No, but I knew he was a well balanced, adaptable colt.”
What were your main concerns going into Epsom and did you have specific tactical instructions for Johnny?
“I worried about there being a strong pace because we did not wish to make the running. Fortunately Ian Balding had a hard pulling horse called Kingsclere who ran away with Olivier Peslier on the way to the start, so I knew before they were loading into the stalls what the pacemaker was likely to be!”
Looking back on Epsom at the time, was it your proudest moment to that point and how did you celebrate that evening?
“It was definitely our proudest moment because of the status of the Epsom Derby. The horses who win at Epsom are “carved in stone” and it is the sort of race that trainers can only dream of winning.
“With regard to celebrating we had to get ourselves home through Heathrow Airport and did not arrive home until late, in fact we arrived home at about the same time as Sinndar did and all the family went down to the stable to welcome him home as the sun was setting.
“There was no time for any great celebration and it was another busy day the next day. Some time later we had a party with our staff.”
Did Sinndar’s success give you a training blueprint for the likes of Sea The Stars, Alamshar, Azamour and all those other fabulous horses?
“Sinndar and to a certain extent Ridgewood Pearl in 1995 made me realise that there is a difference between the true classic horse and the rest.
“They need a stronger constitution to go through the preparation mill in order to take one race after another and keep improving. They are able to train to a “different beat” to the rest and that’s what makes them stand out from the herd.”
Do you go to visit Sinndar very often these days and what place in your heart does he hold?
“Sinndar stands in France these days, so I have not seen him for a long time. He certainly holds a special place in our hearts because he was so genuine, reliable and could always pull out more and it made him the World Champion 3 Year Old of 2000.”