Dante: 1945 Derby winner


by GRAHAM OLIVER THE Dante Stakes at York is named after the 1945 Derby winner. He was trained by Matthew Peacock at Middleham in North Yorkshire and was the last northern-trained Derby winner, and the first since Pretender in 1869. Dante was a brown colt by the unbeaten Nearco, out of Rosy Legend (Dark Legend). As a two year old, Dante was unbeaten in six races, including the Coventry Stakes (run at Newmarket because of wartime restrictions) by four lengths and the Middle Park by two lengths. At the end of the season Dante was placed top of the Free Handicap, one pound above Court Martial.

Dante’s first target as a three year old was the 2000 Guineas and for this he warmed up with a facile fou-length win in the Rosebery Stakes at Stockton (later called Teeside Park: it was closed in 1981 and is now a shopping centre, still named Teeside Park).

In the week preceding the Guineas, Dante had an eye infection which completely closed his left eye. Unfortunately he was drawn on the complete outside of the 20-runner field, so could not see any of the other runners. His jockey, Billy Nevett, managed to manoeuvre himself to start at number 19, swapping places with Charlie Elliott on Fordham, which gave Dante a horse to race against. Dante started as the even money market leader, with Court Martial second best.

In the race, Court Martial was always well up with the leaders, with Dante just behind on the stand side alongside Fordham. Racing down the hill Cliff Richards and Court Martial raced past the weakening Sun Storm and quickly shot into a two-length lead over Dante, now in second place. Coming out of the Dip and up the final hill, Dante started to gain on Court Martial hand over fist, but the post came too soon, with Court Martial prevailing by a neck. Later Nevett admitted that it had been his mistake to allow Court Martial to poach that lead, and Dante must be counted a most unlucky loser.

The Derby was still run at Newmarket in 1945, the war in Europe having been over for less than a month. Dante’s eye appeared cured, and he started favourite at 100/30 (he had been available at 10/1 in the immediate aftermath of the Guineas) in front of a 30,000 crowd with the King and Queen also in attendance. Court Martial was 100/9, as he was considered a doubtful stayer.

High Peak made the running in the Derby with Dante running easily not far behind. Midas took it up going into the Dip with Nevett and Dante starting their run. As they met the rising ground Dante hit the front and strode clear, hand ridden, to win comfortably by a couple of lengths. Midas just held on to keep second from Court Martial, who finished third.

Dante was now given a rest before being trained for the St Leger. Unfortunately he aggravated a muscle in his quarters during August, and he was duly scratched from the race and promptly retired.

Dante took up stud duties at Theakston in Yorkshire, and had a successful career, as one would hope from a son of Nearco, one of the greatest stallions of all time. As well as Dante, Nearco also sired his brother, the 1947 St Leger winner Sayajirao, Nasrullah (champion sire 1951, five times US champion sire), Masaka (English and Irish Oaks), Nimbus (Two Thousand Guineas, Derby), Neasham Belle (Oaks), Royal Charger (Queen Anne Stakes, exceptional sire in Ireland and USA of Turn-To, First Landing, Happy Laughter, Mongo, Royal Palm etc). Most important of all, from a breeding point of view, came Nearctic, in turn the sire of Northern Dancer (Nijinsky, Sadlers Wells, El Gran Senor, The Minstrel etc).

Dante sired the Oaks winner Carozza for the Queen as well as her Sussex Stakes winner Landau. Other offspring included Irish Oaks winner Discorea, and champion two year old filly Diableretta, winner of the Queen Mary, July, Molecomb, and Cherry Hinton Stakes. There was also Darius, winner of the Two Thousand Guineas, St James’s Palace, Eclipse and successful sire.

It was found later that the infection in Dante’s left eye was in fact a degenerative disease, and it eventually blinded him. He died in 1956 at the age of fourteen.

With a bit more luck Dante might well have been a Triple Crown winner. As it was, he retired the winner of eight of his nine races, and was an unlucky loser of the other.

The founder of Timeform, Phil Bull, rated Dante “One of the best horses of the century”. Mind you, he did write that in 1945, so more than half of the century left to run at that time.

The race named in his honour at York has been won by seven horses that went on to win the Derby, the last being Golden Horn in 2015. Will this year provide number eight? The betting markets for York are up and running so make sure you check Betway’s free betting offer. The Yorkshire Oaks is one of the big races and Stradivarius is the clear ante-post favourite at 7-2 with Dal Harraild at 10-1.

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