Epsom Classics: seven ways to find the Derby and Oaks winners

Horse Racing Serpentine Epsom Investec Derby winner
Serpentine (Emmet McNamara) wins the 2020 Investec Derby at Epsom. Photo: Racenews

With the Epsom Classics fast approaching, it’s time to try to find the winners of the Derby and the Oaks. All of the data used below can be found on geegeez.co.uk, as well as world class racecards, and we’ll be using this data to find several angles to help find the winners of both races. Some may be obvious – others will certainly be much less so.

1. Trainer trends: O’Brien and Gosden dominant

Aidan O’Brien is unsurprisingly the most successful Derby trainer since 2009 with six wins – that’s five more than anyone else during this time period. It’s worth noting, though, that he has sent out 53 runners in that time, giving him a win percentage of 11.32% and a place percentage of 30.19%. That place percentage is only slightly better than that of John Gosden – 27.78% – who has placed with five of his 18 runners.

Horse Racing Derby winners trainer stats

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It’s notable that Saeed Bin Suroor has not had a placed horse in the Derby since 2009 from six runners, perhaps slightly surprising for such a powerful stable.

It’s a similar story in the Oaks, with O’Brien and Gosden sharing eight victories since 2009, although Gosden is more successful here with three victories. In fact, Gosden has a comfortably superior win and place strike-rate in this contest.

Horse Racing Oaks winners trainer stats

Actual v Expected, also known as A/E, takes into account the starting prices of the winners to give us an idea of which outcomes offer better value. Aidan O’Brien has an A/E of 1.1 whilst John Gosden’s A/E is 1.59, strongly suggesting the Gosden runners offer far better value in the Oaks than the O’Brien string.

Sir Michael Stoute has a win and a further place from his four Derby runners since 2009 but his last three runners in the Oaks haven’t managed a place between them, while Roger Varian has had four runners without a place since 2009 in the Oaks.

2. Epsom jockeys – who rides the course the best?

To examine each jockey’s ability at such a unique course, it’s best to look not only at the Epsom Classics but all similar riding experiences at the course. The table below shows selected jockeys’ records over middle distances (10f-12f) here.

Horse Racing Epsom Derby and Oaks winners jockey stats

Frankie Dettori is an obvious starting point – he has an exceptional win percentage of 20.37% and a place percentage of 37.04%. Ryan Moore is one of the few jockeys with a better place strike-rate than Frankie (44.09%) but Moore’s win strike-rate is not quite as good.

These two jockeys undoubtedly get better opportunities than many others, so it is no surprise that they have excellent records here. The A/E metric gives us a better understanding of which jockeys are outperforming market expectations.

Dettori and Moore drop much further down the list when looking solely at A/E, in comparison to the likes of Hector Crouch, Luke Morris, Andrea Atzeni and Harry Bentley. We should see a couple of those names in this year’s Epsom Classics and they are all well worth noting if riding elsewhere at the meeting.

3. Sire suitability – data-driven proof about which runners should handle the course

Most Derby and Oaks runners will be having their first starts at Epsom and this is not an easy course to handle. One of the best ways to decipher if a horse is going to handle the course is to look at their breeding.

Horse Racing Epsom sire stats

The above table shows the top sires at Epsom. The table is sorted by Impact Value (IV), which shows how often each outcome is happening relative to all other outcomes – ideal for comparing Epsom performance.

Dylan Thomas, beaten just a neck himself in the 2006 Derby behind Sir Percy, appears to pass on plenty of his balance and ability to his offspring who go very well here. Sakhee, second in the 2000 Derby, also produces runners who tend to perform well at this unique venue.

This year’s early favourite for the Derby, Bolshoi Ballet, is by the legendary Galileo who – needless to say – is one of the top performing Epsom sires – only Dubawi has sired more Epsom winners since 2009.

4. Top draw – the stalls you do and don’t want at Epsom

The Epsom draw can be significant even over long trips, especially in bigger fields.

Horse Racing Epsom draw

In fields of 12 runners or more, there have been no winners breaking from stalls one or two since 2009. That’s no winners from either of the two lowest stalls in the last 33 course-and-distance races with 12 or more runners!

That’s pretty significant and the potential draw bias at Epsom doesn’t end there. High draws on the whole have a PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) of 0.55, compared to just 0.49 for middle draws and 0.47 for low draws.

Stall six performs very well but other than that, five of the highest PRB scores for individual stalls belong to stall 11 or higher. A high draw in the Oaks or Derby at Epsom should be considered an advantage, not a disadvantage.

5. Trial clues – the races most likely to throw up a Classic winner

Retracing the steps of the previous Derby winners can often help highlight where future winners are going to come from.

The most successful Derby trials in recent history have been the 2000 Guineas and the Dante. Thirteen of the last 38 Derby winners (excluding Serpentine in 2020, when there was no racing in May due to Covid-19) had run in the 2000 Guineas (six) or the Dante (seven).

Unsurprisingly, given the distance over which the Classic is run, victory in the 2000 Guineas is not a prerequisite, with only Sea The Stars and Camelot completing the Classic double since 1992. However, six of the seven Derby winners that ran in the Dante won their trial at York.

The Ballysax (four) and Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial (three) have also produced winners of the Derby, with six of those seven winning their trial.

Of the last 35 Derby winners to have run in a trial, 22 won, nine were second and three were third; a third of those beaten were placed in the 2000 Guineas.

In the Oaks, the 1000 Guineas is the top trial, producing eight winners since 1992 – all but two of those were beaten and half of those beaten were unplaced. The Lingfield Oaks Trial is next best, with five winners since 1992; four of those won that trial and the other was runner-up.

The Pretty Polly Stakes, the Cheshire Oaks, the Musidora Stakes and the Irish 2000 Guineas all supplied three winners too. That means that of the last 35 Oaks winners (again excluding 2020 which wasn’t an ordinary season) 11 ran in a mile Classic earlier in the season and nine of those were beaten in that trial.

6. Two-year-old campaign – juvenile clues for the Classics?

The last 11 Derby winners have had varying two-year-old campaigns, a couple having five and seven juvenile starts respectively whilst Ruler Of The World (winner of the 2013 Derby) was unraced as a two-year-old. Generally, though, Derby winners tend to have had three or fewer starts as a two-year-old; that stat applies to seven of the last 11 winners.

Of those that had raced as a two-year-old, only two failed to win a race in their first season. Only one of those runners won three times (none won more than that) and seven of the winners won either once or twice as a juvenile.

As for the fillies, they are typically a little more lightly raced. Yes, four of the last 11 winners had raced five or more times, but seven had raced two or fewer times as a juvenile. A huge eight of the past 11 Oaks winners had won as a two-year-old.

So it will be no shock if the Derby winner has had three or less juvenile starts and the Oaks winner fewer than three. Look for runners that had at least one win from those runs.

7. Proven stamina – necessary or a problem?

Proven stamina is not necessarily a prerequisite for a potential Derby winner. Only two of the last 11 winners had won over a distance within half a furlong of the 12f Derby trip.

Four of those winners had won over as far as 10f or 10.5f while four had also won over 1m. The only recent Derby winner not to have won over at least a mile was Workforce in 2010, but he had finished second in the Dante.

With eight of the past 11 winners winning over a maximum of between a mile and 10f it looks best to back runners from that distance band, with speed proving just as important as stamina.

In the Oaks, the stats are very similar. In 2018 three-race maiden Forever Together won the Oaks after finishing second in the Cheshire Oaks (11f) on her previous start.

Two other Oaks winners from the last 11 had proven themselves over 11f or 11.5f, but other than that four had won over 10f, three had won over a mile and, again, there was one winner who had won over no further than 7f (as a juvenile).

As with the Derby, proven speed is arguably more important than proven stamina, with mile and 10f winners enjoying the most success.

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