Trainer Ed Dunlop targets the daddy of all Derby wins as John Leeper, named after his dual Derby winning trainer father, chases Epsom glory
- John Leeper will be Ed Dunlop’s first runner in the Epsom Derby since 2016
- It is his best chance for success since Native Khan finished fifth in 2011
- John Leeper were the Christian names of his late Derby winning trainer father
Given Ed Dunlop admits that the week leading up to John Leeper winning his trial run for the Derby was one of the most stressful of his training career, the next six days are likely to test the survival skills of his fingernails.
The anticipation of a first runner in Saturday’s Classic at Epsom since 2016 and Dunlop’s best chance since his 2000 Guineas third Native Khan finished fifth to Pour Moi in 2011 is enough to fray the nerves.
But personal dimensions elevate this Derby challenge significantly.
John Leeper (above) will be Ed Dunlop’s first runner in the Epsom Derby since 2016
Firstly, John Leeper were the Christian names of Dunlop’s late dual Derby-winning trainer father who was a long-standing friend and advisor to the colt’s owner-breeder Cristina Patino.
The dam of John Leeper is Snow Fairy, one of the best and most important horses trained by Dunlop during a career which has yielded more than 1,000 winners.
Her six Group One wins included the 2010 Oaks and Irish Oaks plus victories in Hong Kong and Japan.
John Leeper lives at Dunlop’s La Grange Stables in Newmarket which were financed by and named after Snow Fairy.
Jockey Adam Kirby (above) has been booked to ride John Leeper in the Cazoo Derby
Dunlop, 52, said: ‘Having a horse named after your father who won the Derby twice and was pretty revered in the industry puts the pressure on but it also means something special.
‘Mrs Patino named the horse when he was a foal. She had no idea if he was any good. When the colt was born my father had sadly died but she rang my mother and asked her permission. He would be pretty amused and probably embarrassed to have a horse named after him.’
A son of the great Frankel but without his fiery temperament, John Leeper has looked the part. Dunlop said: ‘When he first arrived from Ireland I looked at him and thought this horse has a chance of being a really good horse and that chance is still there.’
A training hiccup last year meant John Leeper was restricted to a promising debut at Doncaster. This year he is two from two with his Newmarket trial success following a first career victory at Newcastle.
Dunlop has his best chance for success since Native Khan finished fifth to Pour Moi in 2011
Dunlop added: ‘Newmarket was a silly race. They went slow early but William Buick was brilliant on him and what was most gratifying was it took him ages to pull the horse up. Physically he has improved unbelievably from his first run and all he can do is improve.’
Leeper is a family name that has been passed down the generations and Ed has a quaint memory of his father’s first Derby win with Shirley Heights in 1978.
Dunlop recalled: ‘I was at Epsom when Erhaab won (in 1994). When Shirley Heights won I was 10 and I was at Sunningdale Prep school. We were allowed to watch the race on the headmaster’s TV. One of my mates in my class was Charles O’Brien, whose father Vincent used to win the Derby most years — a bit like Aidan O’Brien now!
‘When they won the Derby the O’Briens used to deliver us little schoolboys chocolate cake and ice cream for the whole school. I’ll never forget I told my mother, “If we win the Derby we have to have ice cream and cake’’. It turned up, so that is my lasting memory of Shirley Heights.’
Jockey Adam Kirby has been booked to ride John Leeper with orders to look after a colt who Dunlop is adamant has a bright future irrespective of where he finishes on Saturday.
And there is a further twist. Another horse central to Dunlop’s career, Ouija Board, was the dam of Aidan O’Brien-trained 2014 Derby winner Australia. Can lightning strike twice for the progeny of a Dunlop-trained mare in the £1.125million mile-and-a-half race?
Dunlop said: ‘It would be the greatest day of my training career by a long way if he could win. To be honest, I wouldn’t care if it was only worth £1, it’s the Derby.’
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