Geoff Lewis insists Mill Reef is ‘still the greatest’ horse he rode and is one of the best of all time with Cazoo Derby at Epsom set to take place 50 years on from impressive triumph
- Geoff Lewis says that Mill Reef is still the greatest horse that he ever rode
- The Cazoo Derby at Epsom will take place 50 years after the impressive triumph
- Mill Reef went on to enjoy much further success after prevailing in the Derby
There will be a chance to overload on nostalgia when the Cazoo Derby is run at Epsom in 13 days’ time.
Exactly 40 years ago Shergar landed his record 10-length win under a teenage jockey Walter Swinburn.
Thirty years ago Paul Cole’s Generous was an equally stunning five-length winner while it will be 20 years since Aidan O’Brien’s Galileo, who went on to be one of the most influential sires in the history of the sport, passed the most important finishing line in British Flat racing in front. It will also be 50 years since the magnificent Mill Reef wrote his name into Derby folklore.
Geoff Lewis, who won the Epsom Derby in 1971, says Mill Reef is still the greatest horse he rode
He was trained by Ian Balding, whose son Andrew runs Chester Vase winner Youth Spirit in this year’s race.
But watching on from his home, only a few furlongs from Tattenham Corner, will be Geoff Lewis, the man who rode one of the sport’s most celebrated racehorses during a golden era of the sport. Lewis rode 1,882 winners in a 27-year career including five British Classics. Now 85, he is unshaken in the belief that Mill Reef was the greatest horse he rode and one of the best of all time.
Mill Reef beat Linden Tree two lengths in the Derby — the start of a sequence that saw the colt win the Eclipse Stakes, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Mill Reef beat Linden Tree two lengths in the Derby and proceeded to enjoy further success
It is 40 years since Shergar landed his record 10-length win under jockey Walter Swinburn
But he went into the race off the back of a second place — one of only two losses in his 14-race career — in the 2,000 Guineas to the equally lauded rival Brigadier Gerard. It is a memory made more poignant following the death last week of the Brigadier’s jockey and Lewis’s friend Joe Mercer.
Lewis recalled: ‘Mill Reef made his debut as a two-year-old over six furlongs at Salisbury. He was so quick out of the stalls he was gone. At that time you wouldn’t have thought he would be a mile-and-a-half horse. But he was so easy to ride. I used to get on him and drop the reins. He was the best I rode and winning the Derby was the pinnacle of my career. I don’t think Joe rode any better horse than Brigadier Gerard as well.
‘Brigadier Gerard was the best miler I saw in my time riding. Thank God we never met at a mile and a quarter. It’s very hard to say who would win.’