One of the greatest races every year is the Victoria Derby at Flemington and it’s always a fascinating one for punters. What if we can come up with a set of rules that dictate the form requirements needed to reduce the field of potential candidates to a bare minimum?

Hopefully, applying the rules I’ve drawn up will help us deduce the winner of the race.

The Derby’s inaugural race was in 1855, only 19 years after the French inaugurated their Derby and some 20 years before the Americans came up with their Kentucky Derby. To put this into further historical perspective, the Victoria Derby began at a time when the Crimean War was being waged, the Eureka Stockade rebellion had just been fought and when Charles Dickens was at his publishing zenith and not to die for another 15 years.

The idea for the Victoria Derby was dreamed up in 1854 when it was decided that Melbourne should have a spring carnival of racing at a time of year when the surrounding countryside looked at its most beautiful. Sadly, the first attempted running of the event (in 1854) had to be abandoned, as only one entry had been received, so the occasion was passed over until the following year.

Its first running was known as the Turf Club Derby and was raced over a mile-and-a-half (12 furlongs) on the first Wednesday in November. The Derby was to be the carnival’s centrepiece and, even today, retains a high status in spite of being slightly overshadowed by the Melbourne Cup. It’s a race restricted to 3yo colts and fillies and is, nowadays, run over 2500m. (100m further than the pre-metric version.) Let’s go through my special list of factors that can guide us to the Derby winner.


  • All past winners ran at least 4th at their last start in one of the two recognised Victoria Derby trials i.e. the 2040m AAMI Vase run at Moonee Valley or the 2000m Norman Robinson run at Caulfield.
  • Reject any horse to have contested the Geelong Derby Trial or the Cox Plate last start.

For many winners of the big races, putting in a good performance on your last start is pivotal to success and the Victoria Derby is no different. It’s vital that your selection has made the frame in one of the recognised Derby trials and, in all honesty, it’s probably fairer to say that your selection is much more likely to have placed 1st, 2nd or 3rd on its last start.

There is only one recorded instance where a winner was 4th on its last start and this was when the maiden Redding won in 1992. Still, we will stick to those horses that were placed 4th or better, as this will cover all bases.

The “Last Start” stipulation is a powerful one, shored up by the observation that countless horses, which finished worse than 4th on their last start, had gone on to fail in the Derby.

Some readers might feel that the Cox Plate should be counted as a potential trial race for the Derby; after all, Stylish Century managed to place 2nd in the Cox Plate before winning his Derby, but recent statistics don’t really seem to back that up.

Since Stylish Century’s win in 1989, 20 horses have contested the Cox Plate before backing-up in the Derby but none of them won. These include such illustrious names as Octagonal, Danewin, Savabeel and Viscount. My feeling is that a campaign that would include both races would be far too exacting on the modern thoroughbred and it makes more sense that trainers try to set their sights on targets for their 3yos that focus on one prize rather than both.

The trouble here is that if a horse has a good run in the Cox Plate then its connections frequently feel obliged to take advantage of their charge’s good form and so they send it on to the Derby, but in the end it usually proves too much for the horse to handle. What’s more, such contenders frequently end up being priced at poor odds so it makes sense to leave them alone.

Basically, if a Derby contender is sent via the Cox Plate then it almost certainly won’t have enough time to recover from its exertions to do itself justice on Derby day.

One last item to note is the negative statistics associated with the Geelong Derby Trial. It would seem that any runner that had their last start in this race should be completely omitted from calculations. The number of runners from the last 20 years to have raced at Geelong prior to failing in the Derby, comes to around 60 to 70. Some readers might want to point to Omnicorp’s 3rd in the Geelong Derby trial prior to his winning the 1987 Derby as proof of some kind of success rate for the Geelong trial, but he had also won the Norman Robinson in his campaign and I feel that that piece of form overrides his Geelong form by a wide margin.


  • All Derby winners had come either 1st or 2nd in one of their opening two runs of their spring campaign. This achievement must have been made in a race and not a barrier trial. The class of race that the 1st or 2nd was achieved in, can be any of the following: maiden, Class 6 handicap, 3yo Open/3yo Restricted handicap, Listed or Group class.

    The 1st or 2nd can be at any distance from 1000m upwards but if the 1st or 2nd is only achieved in low class handicaps (spanning Class 1 to Class 5), then this will not be good enough.    
  • The minimum number of total career starts recorded by a Derby winner, including two-year-old starts and barrier trials, is six.
  • All Derby winners had at least four to nine starts (including barrier trials) during their 3yo spring campaign. In fact, only one winner in the last 20 years had nine starts (plus trials), so four to eight starts (plus trials) are much more the norm.
  • All Derby winners had started their Derby campaign by September 2. A public barrier trial or racetrack appearance can be considered as the opening start of a 3yo’s Derby campaign.
  • Since Mahogany’s 1993 Derby win, all Derby winners had won at least one race during their 3yo spring campaign. A true Derby candidate will have needed to have won a race in a class equal to, or greater than, 3yo open/restricted handicap class.
  • No previous winner of the Victoria Derby had a spring campaign that included racing in classes below Class 6 handicap class (excluding maiden races). This means that a candidate should not have spring form that shows him having contested handicaps from Class 1 to Class 5.
  • No Derby winner had come last during its 3yo spring campaign.

The above bullet points are intended to summarise the “shape” of a Derby winner’s 3yo profile in its lead-up campaign over the spring months. At first glance the list might seem a little bit “busy” with caveats of all shapes and sizes strewn hither and thither. However, once this year’s Victoria Derby field confronts you, you will probably find that these criteria will be quite easy to work through and, because of the Last Start Performance conditions, you won’t really have that many horses to plough through.

The essential gist of all this is that a Victoria Derby candidate’s campaign should:

(a)  Start on time.
(b)  Show good achievement from the outset.
(c)  Show winning tendencies at a reasonably high level.
(d)  Show that its campaign exhibits enough runs to give both fitness and experience.

A true Derby contender’s campaign must start on time, so if it hasn’t reached the racetrack by September 2 then the chances of success in the Derby will be reduced to almost nothing.

In fact, I think that a campaign beginning on September 2 would probably be too late for most trainers as the only horse to get away with such a late start was Lee Freedman’s Benicio in 2005. I suspect that only Lee Freedman and David Hayes for that matter, could get away with such a late start as they have their own training establishments at Rye and Lindsay Park respectively. 

Freedman and Hayes can work their horses at any time and at their own choosing which helps them develop different training strategies compared to most trainers. So, seeing as most trainers do not have the luxuries that Hayes and Freedman have, expect the majority of Derby contenders to have campaigns that begin in August or perhaps the last few weeks of July.

I would also suggest that you pay close attention to the first condition concerning coming 1st or 2nd in a race. It’s vitally important that your Derby selection has shown good ability in middling class races at shorter distances early in its campaign. This will indicate that your selection has sufficient speed to win the Derby. I found at least 30-40 Derby losers that hadn’t achieved this, yet it is something that you will find in the form of 19 out of 20 Derby winners of the past. The only Derby winner that didn’t have this achievement was the rather sub-standard Fire Oak back in 1990.

All Derby winners had come either 1st or 2nd in a double-figure field in Pattern-class company. If this hasn’t been achieved then a win (and only a win) in a double-figure field in Open handicap company will do. So, for example, if the only double-figure field form a Derby contender shows is a 2nd in Open company or a 1st in company less than
Open company (such as Maidens, Restricted company or Class 1-6 company) then this will not be enough.

The Victoria Derby is an ancient and coveted prize, making it popular with owners and trainers, and it’s because of this that the field size tends to be a large one. Horses need to have achieved a certain level of form in big fields before they reach the Derby, as this will give them much needed experience when the big race comes. If a contender has not shown winning (or second placed) form in high-class double-figure fields, then it is likely to be found wanting on the big day. Note that this kind of form can be achieved as either a 2yo or as a 3yo.

Most of the worst barrier positions seem to fall to those drawn wide but this observation probably won’t come as a surprise to anyone. It seems that no winner has been drawn wider than barrier 14 since 1963. This obviously means that barriers 15 and upwards seem to be a bit of a no-no.

Mind you, the field size has to be large enough to get past that number in the first place, which didn’t happen in every year but the statistical evidence seems powerful enough nevertheless.

Generally, we can say that the bad barrier slots are the very wide ones but a noticeable quirk was spotted with one particular low drawn number when past results were analysed. It would seem that no winner has sprung from barrier 3 in the last 20 years. I’m not quite sure why this is but it’s possible that it might be due to the short 175m run from the start to the first turn.

The early turn in the race might well cause the horse drawn 3 to get the most severe squeezing of all and, judging by the finishing position of most of the horses from this barrier position, there might be some credence in this.

Still, I also know that, coincidentally, many market outsiders or poorly credentialled horses have found themselves in that barrier position so, ultimately, the total evidence might not be overwhelming enough to omit a well-credentialed horse drawn in that position.


  • Every Derby winner had a minimum of four dosage “speed” points in total. Dosage “speed” is represented in the “Brilliant” and “Intermediate” categories and these are usually displayed as the two numbers on the left-hand side of a dosage profile.
  • All Derby winners had at least one “staying” point in their profiles. Where they didn’t,  dominant classicity prevailed. Dominant classicity is the phenomenon in a dosage profile where the “Classic” category’s points out number the total points found in all the other categories.
  • The “Classic” category will have the largest (or joint largest) number of points represented in the dosage profile.
  • A Derby candidate should have a dosage profile that has a minimum of 12 points in total.
  • No Derby winner has a sire-line descending from the stallion Mr Prospector.

One of the most important aspects to consider when studying a Victoria Derby candidate is how the animal is bred.

Many people like to overlook this part of form analysis, as it can be just too nebulous for most people’s tastes.

However, if you manage to recognise that a horse (and particularly a market leader) is not bred correctly for the task ahead, then there is a strong chance that this information will help you zero in on another better value prospect in the race. A quick look at a horse’s dosage profile can help you accomplish this.

Around 14 to 15 years ago Australian racing underwent a fundamental change in the world of breeding when it became subject to the phenomenon known as the shuttle stallion. Within a space of a few years, Australian-bred horses began to have pedigrees that owed their lineage to some of the most powerful bloodlines in the world. This brought about a seismic shift in the quality of thoroughbred that Australia was producing.

The impact of these imported stallions and their progeny gave impetus to the Australian breeding industry, causing it to leap from its lowly status as an inconsequential world player to becoming a leader of global interest. When one looks back at the dosage profiles of the winners in Australia’s great races one can see this shift quite frequently and nowhere is this phenomenon more easily seen than in the history of the Victoria Derby. The year when these powerful bloodlines came to the Victoria Derby was in 1993 and the horse that displayed them was called Mahogany.

To choose a parallel: in the world of written music, Mozart is recognised as being the greatest force for change in the last 10 centuries. Indeed modern music is frequently categorised into two kinds: Pre-Mozart and post-Mozart.

Funnily enough, a similar thing happens within the pedigree history of the Victoria Derby as past winners can also be categorised into two distinct types as well: Pre-Mahogany and post-Mahogany.

Inspect the dosage profiles of past Victoria Derby winners and you can see a quantum leap in the number of total dosage points that Mahogany and any of the subsequent Derby winners had in their profiles. The increase in dosage points for these winners is an indication of how Australian-bred horses had tapped into the most pre-potent bloodlines of the world.

So, if you want to make sure that your horse has the genes for the job, then crank up the computer and hit the website: Don’t worry, using this website is free and checking a horse’s dosage profile on it won’t take a jiffy. Simply type in the name of the horse you’re after into the box in the top left-hand corner of the page and press the "Enter" key. When the horse’s details appear you’ll see the dosage profile at the top of the page consisting of five numbers abbreviated by hyphens. I would also urge you to scrutinise the tabulated pedigree of ancestors contributing to your individual – just because it’s a good exercise.

As regards the final breeding condition concerning Mr Prospector, I happened to notice that horses descended from this sire-line seem to do quite badly according the stats. Over 20 horses from that sire-line contested the Derby over the last 20 years with most achieving very little. I think that this places a question mark over horses sired by the likes of Fusaichi Pegasus and Hussonet (bang goes my hopes for General Eisenhower!)

If you simply focus on the bullet points of the article then you will have a 15-point action plan to go to work with. I am quite certain that it will not take too long to exercise these points as your shortlist should be only eight horses long after you’ve exercised the rulings for Last Start Performance. As a consequence the whole process shouldn’t involve much more than an hour’s worth of detective work.

Regular readers may have noticed that there is no section in this article that is devoted to race times (unlike my Golden Slipper article from earlier in the year). However, I found that trying to find some all-encompassing rules on the subject of race times for the Derby proved quite difficult to do. Such was the wide diversity of stamina conditions found on past Derby days it became virtually impossible to make any useful generalisations about race times.

Still, I don’t think it will matter in the long run as the above information should be more than enough to help you reduce the Victoria Derby field down to only one selection. Let’s just hope it’s the winner!

By Julian Mould