The O’Briens and the Derby: 1962 – Larkspur, the nothing horse

Larkspur with Neville Sellwood on board

Larkspur’s win in the 1962 Derby was the first of Vincent O’Brien’s six victories in the Epsom Derby. It was an international affair, at a time when such things were far less commonplace than they are these days.

Larkspur was bred and trained in Ireland, owned by American businessman Raymond Guest, and ridden by Neville Sellwood, a largely forgotten Australian jockey. He was viewed as a poor Derby winner, from a race that is remembered less for the race itself than for the pile up in which seven of the 26 starters, including the favourite, Hethersett, fell coming down the hill and round Tattenham Corner.

Sellwood was just behind the pile up and was lucky not to be caught up in it himself. He said, “The horses fell right in front of me. I had a lucky escape.”

Even within his stable, Larkspur was second string, and an SP of 22/1 was no surprise for a horse that had won only a maiden in his first season, and one of his two races as a three year old before the Classic. A training setback after his victory in the Wills Gold Flake Stakes at Leopardstown just three weeks before the Derby meant he was a doubtful runner until a couple of days before the race.

Larkspur returned to the racecourse three times after the Derby, but failed to win again. Retired to stud, he stood for three years in Ireland, and subsequently in Japan, but his career as a stallion was unimpressive.

What of Neville Sellwood? He had the ride because Scobie Breasley had first choice of the O’Brien horses. He had occasionally ridden in England from 1950 onwards, but Larkspur was his only ride in the Derby. Within six months of his success he was dead after an accident at Maisons-Lafitte racecourse. He was riding the unfortunately named Lucky Seven in wet condition when the horse slipped and rolled over on top of him. Sellwood sustained serious internal injuries, was unconscious as he was taken from the track and died on his way to hospital.

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