Santa Claus is coming on the 25 December but back in 1964 Santa Claus stormed home in early June to win the Derby at Epsom. In our latest blog we have gone back to an excellent piece, which was first posted on the National Horse Racing Museum website about ten years ago by Tony Lake. Tony, who sadly passed away in 2017 wrote many articles for the museum and more of them will feature during 2024.

“Like my granddaughter I believe in Santa Claus.”

(Telegram sent by Scobie Breasley to the Derby luncheon, 1st June 1964)

“a dream to ride, a beaut” was Breasley’s assessment of Santa Claus two days later. The Derby had begun to look like the race that would elude the great Australian jockey, but at the age of fifty, he had won the “blue ribbon”.  Indeed, Santa Claus put lots of smiles on lots of faces in 1963-64.

Trained on the Curragh by Mick Rogers, son of joint owner Mrs Darby Rogers, the 1200 guineas purchase finished unplaced on his debut in the Anglesey Stakes.  A month later, he readily stepped up on that form, and ran out an impressive winner of the National Stakes, trouncing Mesopotamia (an easy winner of the Chesham Stakes) by eight lengths.  Looking to follow up Rogers’ 1958 Derby success with Hard Ridden, the lightly built, but big and rangy colt headed the Irish Free Handicap.

Reappearing in the Irish 2000 Guineas, the events favourite won in an “attractive and spectacular” style (The Times), strengthening his position at the head of the Derby market.

Genuine opposition was non-existent so the press looked for obstacles. The usual “inexperience,” “stamina,” “track” and “hurly-burly” stories were regurgitated and even the statistic of “no winter favourite has won the Derby since Dante in 1945” was suggested. Then there were fears that he might be “got at.”

Amid secrecy it was planned to send the heavily backed favourite to England in a chartered flight. However, fog scuppered those plans and the horse had to be flown across the Irish Sea 24 hours later, albeit in wind and rain. Nonetheless, he arrived at Epsom in fine fettle, remaining under close surveillance throughout.

In fact, it was the dopers who gave his supporters most to worry about since the race went like a dream. Breasley settled him at the rear in the early stages before producing him with a withering run to the lead inside the final furlong, winning by a length from Indiana and Dilettante II.

Everybody backed him! Undoubtedly the name charmed the once a year punters whilst the form convinced the professionals. The result was one of the worst bookmakers had ever known. One leading firm recorded that, at £350,000, the 15/8 shot was their biggest payout in their long history.

A month later Santa Claus returned. Starting 4/7 for the Irish Sweeps Derby, he won effortlessly, in the hands of Willie Burke.  Becoming the first dual Derby winner in 57 years, on returning to the winner’s enclosure, he received a rapturous welcome from the 60,000 crowd. This win brought his earnings to £134,687 and deposed Ragusa (until the Eclipse Stakes) as “the greatest money earner in the history of the British turf”. This win was also his last.

In the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, only three opposed him and he started at 2/13. However, on the fast ground he was unable to catch front running Nasram II.  Then, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, although putting his Ascot running behind him, he could only manage second place behind Prince Royal. Santa Claus had failed to deliver and was retired to stud.

Tony Lake

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