Before getting too disappointed, frustrated or downright angry about what was surely the strangest Derby, in every way, that any of us will ever witness, it is worth stopping for a moment to recall that, back in April, it was odds-against to be run at all, at Epsom or anywhere else. Now, 240 years after the first running in 1780, the line remains unbroken and the 2017 foal crop now has its Derby winner.
And, who knows, Serpentine may yet prove to be the best three-year-old colt of his generation, and not just a very decent one who was gifted many lengths by the riders on better horses which then proved impossible to retrieve. Few, though, would bet on it, even at Saturday’s starting price of 25-1.
The sectional times tell the story of this year’s Derby and Emmet McNamara’s “freebie” up front on Serpentine more concisely than words.
These show that most of Serpentine’s opponents were handing him several lengths per furlong for the first nine furlongs – which is three-quarters of the entire race.
Serpentine was 2.3sec faster than English King and Frankie Dettori, for instance, through the second to fifth furlongs, then faster by 0.31sec, 0.42sec, 0.6sec and 0.46sec through the next four. Using the British Horseracing Authority’s estimate of six lengths per second, that adds up to around 22 lengths, gifted to a horse setting a decent but hardly extravagant gallop.
English King managed to claw back two seconds, or around 12 lengths, in the final three furlongs, while Mogul (Ryan Moore) and Russian Emperor (Seamie Heffernan) retrieved about 10 apiece. All started their runs from much further back than Oisin Murphy on Kameko, who was free in the early stages and still chasing the leaders in fifth at the top of the hill, with at least some hope of launching a meaningful challenge to the leader if his horse had the stamina (which, it transpired, it did not).
Murphy recorded a detailed and very honest appraisal of his own ride and the race as a whole for his Twitter followers on the way home from Epsom and added to his analysis at Sandown on Sunday.
“If someone offered me the opportunity to sit with cover, three back, one [furlong] out pre-race, I’d have been very pleased,” Murphy said. “He came out quick and as a result, I spent the first 400 metres putting the handbrake on in order to let the pace go.
“The issue was that looking in front of me, the likes of Max Vega and Khalifa Sat were in top gear. I’m not going to make a mid-race move in a Derby when I’m trying to conserve as much energy as I can, so I couldn’t really see how far clear Emmet was at any stage until I came around Tattenham Corner.
“If you ask any jockey riding in the race, if we had our time again, would we have tried to sit closer to Serpentine, we possibly would have tried. But could we have sat much closer, given that the horses in front of me couldn’t sit much closer, because they were flat out?”
Some jockeys would see questions about a race like Saturday’s as hostile or impertinent, but Murphy’s typical willingness to talk it all through was one of the real positives of a difficult day.
Others include a peak viewing figure of nearly 2.3m, a 31% increase on last year’s 1.7m. That suggests bumper betting turnover and a big boost to the Levy at a time when the sport has few other sources of income. William Hill even described the result as “possibly the best ever in the long history of betting on the Derby”. The 2020 Derby was a disappointment for many, but it is still better to have had it than to have lost it entirely.
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