Thursday’s Dante Stakes at York is the major trial for the Derby. The Group 2 race has produced ten Derby winners, from St Paddy in 1960 to Golden Horn in 2015.
The Dante Stakes was first run in 1958. Its name recalls the last northern-trained Derby winner. He won it in 1945 when trained at Middleham by Matthew Peacock and ridden by Billy Nevett. The last northern-trained winner before him was Pretender in 1869. No northern horse has won it since.
Court Martial beat Dante a by neck in the 2,000 Guineas. He had suffered an injury to his left eye a week before the race. The eye was almost closed so Nevett positioned his mount so he could see his rivals with his ‘good’ right eye. That manoeuvre probably cost him the race. At first it was thought the eye injury was caused by a piece of grit. However, it was probably the onset of a disease that eventually sent him blind.
Though the war was effectively over, the Derby took place on Newmarket’s July Course. Watched by a huge crowd, Dante won by two lengths from Midas, with Court Martial a neck away third. On the strength of his Derby victory bookmakers installed him as the odds-on favourite for the St Leger. However, Peacock withdrew him three weeks before the race. He never ran again.
Ironically, Dante never actually ran at York because there was no racing there during the war years.
Dante at stud
He sired plenty of winners at stud including two Classic winners: Darius (1954 2,000 Guineas) and Carrozza (1957 Oaks). His most genuine performer was Durante, a popular handicapper who won 14 races, most of them under big weights. He best fillies included Irish Oaks winner Discorea, and Chinese Cracker, winner of the Ribblesdale Stakes.
By the time of his death in 1956, Dante had sired the winners of 256 races.