Could Middleham land another Derby winner?

A string of Mark Johnston horses in Middlham. Photo: Ian Preston.

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Jo Scott (@JoChantry) looks at Middleham’s chances of a winner at Saturday’s Epsom event.

Middleham has sent out four winners of the great race that is the Derby, but not since Dante, winner of the 1945 running, has the great race come back to the racing town.

But, on Saturday, there is a genuine chance that there may be a fifth historic victory.

Mark Johnston trains Permian for Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Sheikh Mohammed’s son.

After the colt won the Dante recently at York – the race named for the Derby winner – he was supplemented to run in the Epsom Investec-sponsored race on Saturday.

Jockey William Buick has chosen to partner the Kingsley House runner and Johnston said: “In some ways, with Godolphin having four horses in the race, it’s quite flattering that Permian is the choice of William Buick. To my mind, that makes him the number one.

“Franny (Norton) won the Dante on him, but William has won on the horse before and he has had a number of different jockeys.”

Aidan O’Brien has seven entered, including Cliffs Of Moher, and John Gosden has five possibles, including Cracksman, which are ante-post joint favourites at about 4-1.

Cracksman beat Permian in a Derby Trial at Epsom last month, but Johnston is confident about his colt.

“There’s nothing in it. They would have expected Cracksman to improve on that and beat us further, but this is the same track and a different distance and I think we’re the more assured of the pair to benefit from the step up in trip.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt in anybody’s mind that Permian has come on considerably since that Epsom encounter and Cracksman is going to have to improve significantly to beat him this time.”

Permian is about 9-1 ante-post for the 4.30pm race over a mile and a half of the Epsom Downs. Surely, all of us in Richmondshire must hope that a fifth Derby will come home to Middleham for the first time in 72 years!

Dante, who was bred in Middleham and trained by Matthew Peacock at Manor House Stables, where a box still bears his name, won his Derby at Newmarket, where the race was run from 1915-18 and 1940-45, during both wars.

He was the first northern, and indeed Middleham trained, winner since 1869, which was won by Pretender, trained by Tom Dawson at Tupgill.

Pretender was partnered by John Osbourne Jnr, son of the Ashgill trainer of the same name.

Legend has it that it took Dawson three months to walk the colt to Epsom – but he did win the 2,000 Guineas during that time, so he must have gone by way of Newmarket!

After his racing and stud career, Pretender was buried at Brecongill and it is said a stone marks the spot.

Dawson had also won the 1856 Derby with Ellington and nearly two decades earlier, the race had been won by another from Middleham, the 1849 event going to The Flying Dutchman. He was trained at Spigot Lodge by John Fobert.

Spigot Lodge, perched above Wensley between Middleham High and Low Moor gallops, is no stranger to Derby runners. In 2013, Elaine Burke held the licence there when Libertarian was a fast-finishing second under William Buick, behind Ruler Of The World.

Chris Thornton trained there before Karl and Elaine Burke and in 1981, he sent down Guy Reed’s homebred Shotgun, Lester Piggott up, to be fourth to the mighty Shergar.