Trainer Ed Dunlop focuses on the father of all Derby wins while John Leeper, named after his double Derby-winning trainer father, chases the glory of Epsom
- John Leeper will be Ed Dunlop’s first runner in the Epsom Derby since 2016
- It’s his best shot at success since Native Khan finished fifth in 2011
- John Leeper were the first names of his late Derby-winning trainer father
With Ed Dunlop admitting that the week before John Leeper won his Derby test drive was one of the most stressful of his training career, the next six days will likely test the survival skills of his fingernails.
The expectation of a first runner in Saturday’s Classic at Epsom since 2016 and Dunlop’s best chance since his Guineas third Native Khan finished fifth in 2000 against Pour Moi in 2011 is enough to root out the nerves.
But personal dimensions significantly increase this Derby challenge.
John Leeper (above) will be Ed Dunlop’s first runner in the Epsom Derby since 2016
First, John Leeper was the first name of Dunlop’s late, double Derby-winning trainer father, who had long been a friend and advisor to the foal’s owner-breeder Cristina Patino.
John Leeper’s dam is Snow Fairy, one of the best and most important horses Dunlop has trained in a career that has yielded more than 1,000 winners.
Her six wins in Group 1 included the 2010 Oaks and Irish Oaks plus wins in Hong Kong and Japan.
John Leeper lives in Dunlop’s La Grange Stables in Newmarket, which were funded 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 quite respected in the industry puts the pressure on, but it also means something special.
Mrs. Patino named the horse when it was a foal. She had no idea if he was any good. When the foal was born my father had sadly passed away, but she called my mother and asked for her permission. He would be quite amused and probably embarrassed if a horse were named after him. ‘
A son of the great Frankel but without his fiery temper, John Leeper looked good. Dunlop said, “When he first came from Ireland I looked at him and thought this horse has a chance to become a very good horse and the chance still is.”
A training failure last year limited John Leeper to a promising debut with Doncaster. This year he is two of two with his Newmarket trial success after a first win in his career at Newcastle.
Dunlop has its best shot at success since Native Khan finished fifth behind Pour Moi in 2011
Dunlop added, “Newmarket was a crazy race. They went slow early, but William Buick was brilliant at him and what was most gratifying was that it took ages to get the horse to its feet. Physically he has improved incredibly from his first run and all he can do is improve. ‘
A family name passed down from generation to generation, Ed has a special memory of his father’s first Derby win with Shirley Heights in 1978.
Dunlop recalled, “I was with Epsom when Erhaab won (1994). When Shirley Heights won I was 10 and was in Sunningdale Prep School. We got to watch the race on the director’s TV. One of my friends in my class was Charles O’Brien, whose father Vincent won the Derby most of the years – kind of like Aidan O’Brien now!
When they won the Derby, the O’Briens delivered us schoolboys chocolate cake and ice cream for the whole school. I’ll never forget saying to my mom, “If we win the Derby, we’ll need ice cream and cake.” It turned out, so that’s my lasting memory of Shirley Heights. “
Jockey Adam Kirby has been booked to ride John Leeper with the assignment to provide a colt that Dunlop adamantly has a bright future for, no matter where he finishes on Saturday.
And there is another twist. Another horse central to Dunlop’s career, Ouija Board was the dam of Aidan O’Brien-trained 2014 Derby winner Australia. Could lightning strike twice for the offspring of a Dunlop-trained mare in the £ 1.125 million mile and a half race?
Dunlop said, “It would be by far the best day of my training career if he could win. To be fair I wouldn’t care if it was only worth £ 1 it’s the Derby. ‘