THE TRINIDAD DERBY STAKES
"The Run the Oak"
BY J. D. COZIER
Without any doubt the Trinidad Derby Stakes holds no equal as the most prestigious racing event run off in this country, and one with a long and very colorful history. Sponsored by the House of Angostura from 1988, and since referred to as the Royal Oak Derby Stakes; this Grade I event for the Caribbean's best 3 year olds, was actually first run off in 1902 when Mr. L. Devenish's 'Fox' with Lynch up, defeated three other rivals over 8 furlongs at the 'Big Yard', the Queen's Park Savannah, which was the home of the Derby until 1993, after which racing was centralised at Santa Rosa Park, in Arima.
Between 1902 - 1917 the Derby was run over varying distances from 8 furlongs, to 8 furlongs and 100 yards; the 1917 winner being 'Redrine' with Marcelle up.
From 1918 - 1929; no Derby was contested, however the race was reintroduced in 1930 at the Trinidad Turf Club's Christmas Meeting, again over 8 furlongs, and had been held every year thereafter except in 1979, due to the unfortunate equine influenza outbreak. In 1930, the Derby was won by Stewart Massiah's 'Bridesmaid' trained and ridden by Oliver Penlyn Bennett, defeating 'Flare' and 'Fleet Foot' for a first prize of $1,087.50. 'O.P.' as he was fondly known, subsequently trained and rode two other Derby winners in 'April The 11th (1934) and 'Bachelor's Fort' (1935), and was the trainer on record of 'Danny Boy' (1937), ridden by son Steve, who is still around in racing circles; as well as 'Entry Badge' (1955), one of four Derby winners to sport the famous colours of Cyril de Bracey Barnard of St. Vincent.
During the golden '40's' up to the early '60's', the Christmas Meetings hosted by the Trinidad Turf Club were a haven for foreign competition, particularly from Barbados, and on a few occasions Jamaica. Horses owned in St. Vincent, Guyana (then British Guiana), Grenada and St. Kitts also challenged their locally based counterparts, and emerged with success.
The Chandler Stables of Barbados dominated racing at home during this period, and enjoyed great success when forays were made on TT soil. 'Belledune', owned by Sir John Chandler won the Derby in 1943, with Englishman Edgar Crossley aboard. Sir John was to score again in 1962 when Pepperpot and Challenor Jones defeated son Bill's 'Ferryboat', for a 1-2 for Barbados, Ironically the last victory by a Bajan based horse In this classic.
The Jamaican influence on the Derby manifested at the start of the '50's. Frank Watson's Footmark (classified B2) trained by Leo V. Williams with Lester Newman as pilot won the 1950 edition over 'Top Flight', and also took the Stewards Cup at the same meeting for a notable double. This double had been achieved the previous year (1949) when Mr. William B. Scott's filly 'Ocean Pearl' kept the purse at home under Romulo Mendes in both of these events. In 1951, the Merry Mark filly 'Embers', which had previously won the Jamaica Oaks and Jamaica Derby before being sold to Barbadian Mrs. Doris Bourne, (who was to successfully campaign Blue Sails in the early '60's'), trained by Leo Williams with Frank Quested up took the Derby, defeating another Jamaican bred, but locally trained 'The Jester 11'. 'Mr. Lover Lover' with Simon Husbands aboard rekindled the olden days with an impressive victory in 1997; while 'Terremoto' and Charles Hussey followed up in 1998.
The names Cyril de Bracey Barnard and Lou Fisher are synonymous with the Derby Stakes, for those two gentlemen won six Derby Cups between 1952 - 1961. Cyril Barnard's reign commenced in 1952 with his smashing filly 'Bright Light' ridden by Eric St Cyr Holder. This filly won the Trinidad Triple Crown of the Easter Guineas, Trial Stakes and the Derby, although the Triple Crown had not yet been given official sanction. Such was to come in 1982. Other winners for Barnard were 'Entry Badge' (1955), 'New Moon' (1961) and 'Royal Visit' (1969). His 4 victories remain a record for an owner in the Derby, though such was equalled by Alwin Poon Tip in 1999.
Lou Fisher had three winners within the space of five years, all bred in Barbados out of his fine mare 'Fair Jo'. 'Darjeeling' (1954) and 'Shalimar' (1958) were also Triple Crown winners, while 'Fair Chance' (1956) scared her sole success as a 3 year old in the prestigious classic under Frank O'Neil for trainer Mc Donald Aird.
Between 1940 - 1959, several champion creoles took the Derby. Pride of place must go to Mikey Amoroso - Centeno and Boysie Harris' chestnut colt 'Jetsam', winner in 1944 with Perfecto Chappelin aboard over the Bajan filly 'Radiance', a success this trio would emulate in 1948 when Jetsam's full brother 'Ligan' took the spoils again over another Bajan filly 'Bikini'. 'High Hat' and 'Gleneagle provided a notable double for owner A. C. O'Dowd, trainer E. E. Murray and jockey Eric Holder in 1941 and 1942.
1945 marked the year of 'Nylon' owned by Lionel Gittens with Chappelin on board. Almost unnoticed at the time was the attendant entrusted with the care of the O.T.C. gelding. His name, which has become a legend in Caribbean racing circles, was Eric 'Colt' Durant, the Maestro of Marabella, Champion Trainer in Trinidad & Tobago on 'umpteen' occasions. Eric Durant, who was granted a trainer's licence in 1959, and had his first winner with Merlin Samlalsingh's 'Castaway' that same year, has won a record eight (8) Derbies with a galaxy of stars such as 'Decorum' (1964), 'Pegasus Plus' (1966), 'Royal Colours' (1982), 'Royal Salute' (1983), 'Conquest' (1985), 'Buck's Nugget' (1987), 'Flag Woman' (1991), and 'Renegade' (1993). Since racing has been centralised at Santa Rosa, lady luck has not smiled on the Maestro who retired in 1999.
Alwin Poon Tip, is on record as the leading local owner and one who is still very actively involved in racing, with four successes in the Derby, 'Pegasus Plus' (1966), 'Royal Colours' (1982) 'Adoring Groom' (1996), and Groomsman (1999) have donned his cherry and black silks to victory.
Alwin Poon Tip's influence on the Derby is far more profound than his four personal successes, for horses bred at his Santa Cruz Stud farm, either personally or from mares boarded there, won five straight Derbies from 1981 - 1985 with 'Monarchy', 'Royal Colours', 'Royal Salute', 'Valeroso' and 'Conquest'; in 1996 with 'Adoring Groom', 1999. – 'Groomsman' and 'New Millennium' in 2000.
The Shim family has also left a mark on the Derby through their broodmare 'Devon Glory', dam of three Derby winners in 'Sky Glory' (1975) and 'Page of Glory' (1977) which campaigned for Ronald Shim, and 'Valencia Boy' (1974) in wife's Sylvia's colours. 'Devon Glory's' great grandson 'Glorious Music' took the spoils in 1992. Ronald's brother, gentleman Sydney, guided the fortunes of the unheralded 'Cinderella' colt 'Cachito Mio' owned by Miguel Ramirez with Rajpaul Rajkumar astride in 1989.
Challenor Jones, the master jockey of the '60's' to early '80's' holds the record for most wins by a rider - six. Chally first won in 1962 with 'Pepperpot', which was followed by Decorum' (1964), 'Chip Chip' (1967), 'Vienna Woods (1970), 'True Grit' (1971) and 'El Camino' (1978). Now a leading trainer in Barbados, his 'Incitatus' finished 6th to 'Adoring Groom' in 1996, but should have been placed higher with a better-judged ride. Foreign-based riders have also performed with distinction in the Derby.
During the heyday of the '40's, the Spanish influence was quite dominant with Perfecto Chappelin (3) and Romulo Mendes (2), winning five of six races run between '1944 - 1949'. Mesa and Yumar had preceded these two, scoring in 1936 - Mesa aboard 'Meta' and Yumar on the (in) famous 'Tommy Boy' for Dr. Cyril Gittens. Eric Aguirre recalled those good old days piloting 'Vitesse Oblige' in 1995 for Dr. Abraham Alexander with Nobel Abrego successful in 1999 on 'Groomsman'.
The Englishmen have also had a field day in the Derby, with Crossley (Belledune) - 1943) Bobby Hardwidge (Atomic 11 - 1947), Frank Quested (Embers - 1951; and Aurelian - 1963), and Frank O'Neil (Darjeeling and Fair Chance), all resident in the Caribbean, while seasonal visitors John Higgins (Aquarius - 1972, Valencia Boy - 1974, Sky Glory - 1975) Tony Kimberley (Cantuar - 1976), Denis Mc Kay (High Court 11 - 1973), and Geoff Baxter (Page of Glory - 1977), as well as internationally renowned English riders Lester Piggott (4th on High Noon in 1972); and Willie Carson (unplaced an Merrylegs in 1980), have all ridden in the big one at the Big Yard. Of the current day riders likely to threaten Jones' record are Rajpaul Rajkumar (4) (Conquest, Buck's Nugget, Cachito Mio, and Phardance), Brian Harding (2) (Flag Woman, Renegade), Dale Whittaker (2) (Lash Dem Lara, Adoring Groom) both at Santa Rosa.
1994 was the year of the turning point for racing, as the industry was removed from the existing turf tracks at the Queen's Park Savannah, Union Park and at Santa Rosa Park; and replaced with a sand, anti-clockwise racing strip at Santa Rosa. 1994 was also the year of Brian Charles Lara who broke records for the highest score in Test and English county cricket. It was therefore befitting that history should record the first winner of the 'new' Derby in Roger Hadeed's 'Lash Dem Lara ridden by Dale Whittaker, trained by Joseph Hadeed.
The House of Angostura has been the proud sponsors of the Royal Oak Derby Stakes since 1988. 'Song N Dance' with apprentice Carlos John, slipped her field in the torrential, blinding rain of the 1988 Derby, and was never caught. The filly returned $87.70 on a single win ticket, the longest priced winner of the race. Her trainer, Maniram Maharaj's dream is to own, train and breed a winner of this prestigious classic; and register yet another unique achievement in the Turf records of this great race.
When Bernard Dulal Whiteway's 'New Millennium' under Ricardo Jadoo shocked 'Bound To Dance' in the 2000 renewal of the Derby, she became the first filly to score at Santa Rosa Park, and fittingly
of the new century.