The Victoria Derby is a Group 1 race held on the Saturday before the Melbourne Cup as part of the Melbourne Spring Carnival at Flemington Racecourse.
The meeting is known as Derby Day and it is the only race day in Australia where every race is Group level. There are three additional Group 1 races, those being the Cantala Stakes, the Coolmore Stud Stakes and the Empire Rose Stakes. The Group 2 races are the Linlithgow Stakes and the Wakeful Stakes. The Group 3 races are the Hotham Handicap, the Begonia Belle Stakes and the Carbine Club Stakes.
This major Australian Thoroughbred race pre-dates the Melbourne Cup by six years.
The Victoria Derby is age restricted to three-year-olds, is run at set weights and offers a prizemoney pool of $2 million as of 2020.
History of the Victoria Derby
The Victoria Derby was run for the first time in 1855. The first racing around Melbourne, according to the history, took place around 1840. That was the first official race meeting; of course, people have been racing their horses since the species was domesticated about 5,000 years ago in Eastern Europe.
As an age restricted race, there are no repeat winners save for Fireworks. Fireworks won for the first time in November of 1867 and again in 1868 when the Victorian Racing Club moved the race to New Year’s Day for the 1868 and 1869 editions.
From the inception in 1855 until 1971, the race was considered as a 1 ½-mile event. When metrification came along for the 1972 Victorian Derby, the trip was given as 2400 metres. The effect was to reduce the race by 14 metres, about two strides for a Thoroughbred running on the speed. It was lengthened to 2500 metres because the dimensions of Flemington Racecourse revealed that at 2400 metres, the run to the first turn was short to the degree that it seemed dangerous, so 100 metres were added.
This fact begs the question that if it was dangerous at 2400 metres, was it safe at 1 ½ miles? Did those extra two strides make a difference?
Those questions are better left to the horse experts.
The race was classified as Principal Race until the Group Classification system came into use. The Victorian Derby was run as a Group 1 event for the first time in 1979.
As of 2020, the track record for the race at 2500 metres is 2:33.60. That is the time Star Of The Realm turned in in 1991 when he beat the champion Naturalism by two lengths.
There was a period from 1931 through 1956 when geldings were not permitted to run in the race, which is a prime example of adding insult to injury.
The race was won by fillies in 1855, 1856 and 1857. The last filly to win was Frances Tressady in 1923.
Human women have not done well in the Victorian Derby, either.
There was no woman rider until Clare Lindop competed in 2005. She won the race in 2008 while riding a stallion named Rebel Raider in 2008. Rebel Raider was a $101 proposition in that race, so it is impossible not to draw comparisons between Lindop and Rebel Raider and Prince Of Penzance that produced the 2015 Melbourne Cup boilover from the same starting price with Michelle Payne in the irons.
Gai Waterhouse was the first woman trainer to prepare a Victoria Derby winner when she had Nothin’ Leica Dane salute. Three days after winning, the stallion ran second in the Melbourne Cup to Doriemus. Earlier in the season, Doriemus won the Caulfield Cup. Nothin’ Leica Dane finished four lengths back in the Melbourne Cup, obviously spent from running the staying trip of the Victoria Derby just three days prior.
Jockey Bobbie Lewis holds the mark for most wins. He won the race eight times between 1900 and 1927. As for his mounts in those victories, the only one that stands out is Trivalve that won the Melbourne Cup that same year, along with the AJC Derby.
Trainer James Scobie is the leader for wins by a trainer. His horses won eight times between 1900 and 1937. He trained six of the horses jockey Bobbie Lewis rode to wins. Those were Malster (1900), Hautvilliers (1901), Sylvanite (1904), Wolwala (1912) and Trivalve (1927).
The race is generally won by experienced campaigners. In the early days of racing, it was possible to find a three-year-old with plenty of racing, but only four horses have won the Victoria Derby in their first race. Preferment from 2014 was the most recent. The others are Redding (1992), Fire Oak in 1990 and Martini Henry in 1883.
All those four are considered New Zealand bred horses.
Race Venue of the Victoria Derby
The race has always been held at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne.
Often referred to as Headquarters, Flemington is the best know racecourse in Australia. It hosts the Melbourne Cup and has 12 other Group 1 races spread across a season, 10 Group 2 and 14 Group 3 races.
One notable feature is the 1200-metre starting straight that is used for sprint races of 1000 – 1200 metres. The straight is referred to as “The Straight Six,” harkening back to the days when six furlongs was basically equivalent to 1200 metres.
More details on Flemington can be found here.
Racing History of the Victoria Derby
Through 2020, the Victoria Derby has been run 167 times.
Many of the winners will be known only to those with an encyclopedic knowledge of Australian Thoroughbred racing history. That said, it takes a better than average horse to win a race of the Victoria Derby’s stature.
We will mention some of the better-known winners in passing. Readers who are interested in more in-depth information of some of the Victoria Derby winners can find more complete biographies on our pages devoted to the great turf champions.
The first winner was Rose Of May in 1855. Little is known from her racing career. She dropped in 1852 out of Maid Of Islay, an Aussie mare, by Great Britain’s Dolo. Dolo won the 1846 Northumberland Plate by being the last horse standing at the conclusion of the race.
The first significant winner was Lantern in 1864. He would win the Melbourne Cup that same year, so unlike Nothin’ Leica Dane, Lantern was able to back the Derby with the Cup. The year itself is notable because that is the first year the race was run following the merger of racing jurisdictions that is now known as the Victoria Racing Club.
Moving to 1874, a horse with the unoriginal name of Melbourne was the winner. At least 12 horses have had the name and some of those, believe it or not, were from France, Uruguay and the USA.
Robin Hood was the winner in 1875. Slightly more original, just only. Less, actually, as the name has been used almost 40 times. Horses by that name rob from the punter and give to the bookie.
The next notable winner was Briseis in 1876. She is an Australian Racing Hall of Fame member for winning the Melbourne Cup in the same year as her Victoria Derby win. Horses worked in those days. They did not tour the eastern states in an air-conditioned float, as do the modern horses. Her other big wins were the AJC All Aged Stakes, the Doncaster Handicap and the VRC Oaks, all in 1876. Those big wins in the Derby the Melbourne Cup and the VRC Oaks occurred over a six-day span. Six days, not six months.
The 1877 race went to Chester. Like Briseis, Chester won the Melbourne Cup on short rest. He became a leading sire, most notable of which was Abercorn that beat Carbine on more than one occasion.
The year of 1880 supplied Grand Flaneur as the winner. Like the predecessors just mentioned, Grand Flaneur won the Melbourne Cup. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. His first crop as a stud produced Bravo, the 1889 Melbourne Cup winner. He made only nine starts, winning all nine, forced to retire after an injury.
A good number of years intervened before our next notable winner, Newhaven, won in 1896. You guessed it. Newhaven was a Melbourne Cup winner that same year. Defying the pattern of the Poms sending us their rejects, Newhaven went to England and won four races. Newhaven was the first Melbourne Cup winner to be filmed in the act of winning.
The legendary Poseidon won the Victoria Derby in 1906. Yes, he won the Melbourne Cup that same year. He won the Caulfield Cup twice. More details for Poseidon can be found here:
Prince Foote, the 1909 winner, also won the Melbourne Cup that same year. He made only 22 starts, but he won half and placed in five others. Like Poseidon, he also won the AJC Derby and the AJC and VRC St. Legers in the same season.
We jump from 1909 to 1922 to find Whittier as the winner of the 1922 Victoria Derby. No Melbourne Cup for Whittier, but he won the Caulfield Cup in 1922 and 1925. He also won the Underwood Stakes twice.
Manfred was the 1925 winner. Manfred won the Cox Plate that same year and the Caulfield Cup in 1926. He was something of a precursor to Chautauqua, in that he refused to gallop in six races. In the AJC Derby he won in 1925, he spotted the rest of the field 100 metres before he was persuaded by jockey Billy Duncan to participate. Manfred was sire to 1937 Melbourne/Caulfield Cup winner The Trump. The horse, not the more recent horse’s ass.
We have to wait until 1929, but the wait supplies Phar Lap as the winner. Here is where you can find more details on Australia’s most famous Thoroughbred:
Next, we have Hall Mark in 1933. He was another Melbourne Cup winner. His sire was Heroic. Hall Mark raced 52 times, recording 18 wins and 25 placings.
Fifteen years later, we arrive at the 1948 winner Comic Court. Comic Court could sprint, as his wins at 1200 metres demonstrate, and he could stay, as his 1950 Melbourne Cup win demonstrates. He also won two MacKinnon Stakes, two Turnbull Stakes, two Memsie Stakes and two St. George Stakes. We can imagine he was the sort that other trainers and owners avoided, much as was done around Winx in later days.
The very next year, 1949, suppled Delta as the winner of the Victoria Derby. Unlike some of the others, though, Delta did not win the Melbourne Cup in the same year. He waited until 1951. He did win the Cox Plate in the same year he won the Victoria Derby.
We have to skip forward, ignoring 1951 winner Hydrogen and 1955 winner Sailor’s Guide just to get to 1957 winner Tulloch.
Tulloch need little by way of introduction. We will just say that he made 53 starts for 36 wins and 16 placings. He had an off day, not placing in that one race, but we suspect he was no worse than fourth.
The versatile Sky High was the 1960 winner. He won at 100 metres and he won out to 2400 metres. He won many major races, some on more than one occasion, but he never broke through in the Cox Plate or the Melbourne and Caulfield Cups.
Tobin Bronze was the 1965 winner. Other notable wins were Cox Plates in 1966 and 1967 and the 196 Caulfield Cup. His successful career featured 60 starts for 28 wins and 16 placings.
The New Zealand horse Daryl’s Joy won in 1969 and won the Cox Plate that same year. He raced successfully in the United States after galloping in Australia, where he made 11 starts and won almost $200,000.
In 1973, Taj Rossi won the Victoria Derby along with the Cox Plate. He was Australian Horse of the Year in 1974.
Like Daryl’s Joy, 1978 winner Dulcify was New Zealand bred. Unlike Daryl’s Joy, he did not win the Cox Plate until the following year. Colin Hayes was his owner and Dulcify’s bargain purchase price as a paltry $3250. Dulcify was the favourite in the 1979 Melbourne Cup, but he broke his pelvis during the race and had to be put down. His Cox Plate win was by seven lengths.
Another Kiwi horse was the 1984 Victoria Derby winner Red Anchor. He was the 1984 Cox Plate winner and the Australian Champion Racehorse of the Year in 1985.
Stylish Century, the 1989 winner, managed to parlay 11 wins and 15 placings from 52 starts into over $2.5 million in earnings.
Mahogany was the 1993 winner. He raced mostly sprint races as an older horse, something of a reversal of the more typical pattern. He won the Lightning Stakes twice, in 1995 and 1997, was the Australian Champion Three Year Old for the 1993 – 1994 season and the Australian Horse of the Year for that same season.
The 2003 winner was Elvstroem. He beat Makybe Diva in the 2004 Caulfield Cup, denying her a Cups double when she won the Melbourne Cup for the second time in 2004. In fact, Elvstroem beat Diva on the majority of occasions where they competed.
Efficient, another New Zealand stayer, wasted little energy in winning the race in 2006. He conserved strength by waiting until 2007 to win the Melbourne Cup.
We mentioned 2008 winner Rebel Raider earlier, notable for the win at 100/1 odds.
Many good horses won the Victoria Derby following Rebel Raider. The next notable we encounter was 2015 winner Tarzino. Another Kiwi horse, Tarzino was a lightly raced stallion with Zabeel for his damsire. He was the Australian Champion Three Year Old, but he was retired after a ligament injury affected his last campaign.
From Tarzino, we have Prized Icon in 2016. Prized Icon made 33 starts for just three wins and 15 placings, which he managed to turn into over $2.1 million in earnings.
Next came Ace High in 2017, followed by Extra Brut (2018), Warning (2019) and Johnny Get Angry in 2020.
Without doubt, the Victoria Derby is one of the most prestigious races in Australia. It has a long history, for one thing, and a winners’ list that is something of a Who’s Who of Australian Thoroughbred royalty.
The days may be gone when the Victoria Derby winner could win the Melbourne Cup three days later. Nothin’ Like A Dane came close in 2008. Efficient, the 2006 Victoria Derby winner, was scratched from the 2006 Melbourne Cup.
The winner of the Victoria Derby is often from the ranks of the elite, even though it is getting harder and harder to find good Australian stayers, which has made the race a happy hunting ground for New Zealand horses, as history clearly demonstrates.
|Year||Victoria Derby Winnerw|
|2020||Johnny Get Angry|
|2000||Hit The Roof|
|1995||Nothin' Leica Dane|
|1991||Star Of The Realm|
|1954||Pride Of Egypt|
|1887||The Australian Peer|
|1855||Rose Of May|