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Last Updated: Monday, 2 June, 2003, 07:01 GMT 08:01 UK
Knight's crowning glory
Frank Keogh
On the 50th anniversary of a famous triumph

In the first of a two-part feature, we tell how jockey Sir Gordon Richards dashed the Queen's Derby dream in her coronation year.

The Queen wishes Sir Gordon luck before the 1953 Derby

It is 50 years since the veteran rider finally landed the blue riband of horse racing at the 28th attempt - just days after he had been knighted.

The 26-time champion won the 1953 Derby aboard Pinza, beating the Queen's horse Aureole into second, at the height of Her Majesty's coronation celebrations.

Sir Gordon died aged 82 in 1986. But his memory, and a famous anniversary, lives on in a special bronze trophy which has been commissioned for the winners of the 2003 Derby on Saturday.

In an exclusive interview, the jockey's daughter Marjorie Read told the BBC Sport website how the victory cemented her father's place as a much-loved sporting superstar.

"It's not the same thing, but in some ways it was a bit like David Beckham today," said Mrs Read, who was aged 17 at the time.

"Wherever he went, people stopped him and wanted autographs."

He had only heard of his knighthood in a letter shortly before the Epsom showpiece, and was so overwhelmed it took him a couple of days to reply.

Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill even approached the rider, then aged 49, at Lingfield races to check he had received the letter.

Churchill winked, said he was personally very pleased, and added: "Keep it under your hat."

Sir Gordon stood just 4ft 11ins tall, but his powerful, muscular frame allied with a rare determination and honesty, helped make him a racing icon.

1953 AND ALL THAT...
Daughter Marjorie with a painting of her father on Pinza
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His Epsom triumph came in a remarkable year, where Everest was conquered and sport scaled new heights.

For 1953 was not only coronation year, but provided football folklore in the shape of the Matthews Cup Final and Hungary's historic win at Wembley

Despite the defeat of her horse, the Queen appeared to appreciate the victor's achievement.

In his biography, Sir Gordon wrote: "Her Majesty sent for me after the race and there was no sign of disappointment in her face.

"Her Majesty seemed to be just as delighted as I was with the result of the race."

The jockey retired a year later after a riding accident.

He embarked on a training career, but it was for his feats in the saddle that he was so fondly remembered when he died aged 82 in 1986.

His record for the number of winners in a season, 269, was only broken in 2001 - by jump jockey Tony McCoy, who enjoys a far busier fixture list.

And his career victories, some 4,870, still stand as the greatest tally amassed by any British or Irish rider.

That Derby win ensured there was no gap in Sir Gordon's glittering CV - it was a moment of fulfilment.

"It was wonderful. The number of telegrams which came and everything about that time was just unbelievable," remembered Mrs Read.

Fifty years on, the Queen has been no closer to winning the Derby than she was in that first year of her reign.

Part Two on Thursday: Sir Gordon's racing legacy

Derby dream
Watch Sir Gordon's famous 1953 Epsom triumph on Pinza

McCoy v Richards
02 Apr 02  |  Horse Racing

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