The O’Briens and the Derby:1982 – Golden Fleeces the magic sign

Vincent O’Brien trained his sixth and final Derby winner in 1982. Golden Fleece, like Roberto ten years earlier, was American bred, and whilst he brought the curtain down on O’Brien’s Epsom exploits, he was also the first in another chain. Golden Fleece was sired by Nijinsky, a Derby winner himself for O’Brien, and one who would go on to sire tow other Derby winners in Sharahstani (1986) and Lammtarra (1995). It’s in the breeding all right.

You had to be gentle in preparing Golden Fleece for his races, and indeed, the Derby run was to be the last of four runs. But get him to the track and he wasn’t going to be beaten, so he retired to stud undefeated. After his prep race at Leopardstown, Golden Fleece pulled up lame on the gallops three weeks before Epsom. O’Brien said then, “It’s only slight and I hope he will be sound and back in work in a few days.” So he was, but for a while, Coral took him out of the betting.

On the day of the race, Golden Fleece drifted from 9/4 to 3/1, although he maintained his place as favourite throughout the day. By now, O’Brien and Lester Piggott had parted company, and Pat Eddery had on the green and blue silks of owner Robert Sangster. He sat at the back of the field of 18 until they turned into the home straight, and no sooner had the commentator uttered the words “Pat Eddery is switching to the outside” than he had passed half a dozen horses and was on the way to a comfortable three length victory over 40/1 outsider Touching Wood.

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All the bookies would have suffered that day, but Ladbrokes did so more than most. Their ante post market had been framed by the young Mike Dillon. He had been with the bookmaker for about three years when he travelled to Leopardstown to see Golden Fleece in his prep race, the Nijinsky Stakes, now the Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial Stakes. Although Golden Fleece won, Dillon was not over impressed by his performance.

He recalls standing on the rails watching the race with Mickey Rogers, a good enough judge to have trained both Hard Ridden and Santa Claus to win the Derby. He said to Dillon, “We’ve been lucky men today – we’ve seen the Derby winner.”

Dillon stuck to his view that the form of the race would not hold up, and Ladbrokes took bets throughout the run up to the race and ended up losing a good deal of money. Looking back on the race, Dillon judged it a real learning experience rather than the major disaster it must have felt at the time.

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