It was hard to find one expert before the 1934 Derby who thought any other horse but Colombo would triumph. The unbeaten ‘super-horse’ was deemed well nigh unbeatable. And why not? As a two-year-old the previous year Lord Glanely’s colt had won all seven of his races, and two in 1934. Trained by Captain Thomas Hogg, he had been ridden to victory by several leading jockeys of the day. His was indeed an impressive record.
20 April Newmarket Stakes Arthur Wragg
17 May Scarborough Stakes, York Gordon Richards
15 June New Stakes, Ascot Gordon Richards
30 June Fulbourne Stakes, Newmarket Steve Donoghue
15 July N.B. Produce Stakes, Sandown Gordon Richards
25 July Richmond Stakes, Goodwood Steve Donoghue
30 Sept Imperial Produce Stakes, Kempton Park Steve Donoghue
19 April Craven Stakes, Newmarket William Johnstone
2 May 2000 Guineas, Newmarket William Johnstone
This was certainly not a record to be scoffed at, and it was obvious to those who followed the record book and the form book that there was no other horse that would claim the Derby. Colombo was the superstar and all eyes were on him. He was not stabled at the Epsom course either but at the adjoining Durdans plantation and guarded like an emperor.
The knowledgeable handful had, however, neither reckoned with the law of averages, nor with the fact that Colombo had not won a long race. The Derby distance of 1 ½ miles or 12 furlongs was sure to test the favourite. Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla was quick to spot this chink in his armour and was not at all apprehensive of him. His own horse Windsor Lad, on the other hand, had already proved himself over this distance.
No one could, obviously, foresee the quirks of fate either. Colombo ran into a roadblock behind the pace-setter Medieval Knight, and ultimately when it mattered he failed to live up to his fabled status. His stamina was found wanting just before the finishing post. The myth was shattered as Windsor Lad sped to glory.
This was to prove a shattering blow. Colombo was thereafter beaten to second place by Flamenco in the St. James Palace Stakes at the Royal Ascot, ridden once more by Johnstone. The colt was never to race again and retired to stud in 1935.
Colombo’s reverse in the Derby drew sharp reactions on both sides of the spectrum. Some said he was unlucky, others averred that he lacked stamina. A few attributed the humiliation to both factors. Still others blamed Johnstone, a few even questioned the strategy, many were full of admiration for Windsor Lad and his splendid team. Whatever view anyone took, it was one of the most debated and thrilling Derbys in history.