Dunlop looks to add 'surreal' chapter to family's Derby history

·3-min read
Ed Dunlop's Derby hopeful John Leeper exercising on the Epsom Downs last month

Ed Dunlop admits it is "surreal" training a leading contender for Saturday's Epsom Derby named in honour of his father.

Dunlop's dad, John Leeper Dunlop who died aged 78 in 2018, won the coveted classic twice.

The equine John Leeper, whose dam Snow Fairy Ed Dunlop trained to win the Oaks in 2010, faces 11 rivals on Saturday with superstar jockey Frankie Dettori on board.

Two Irish runners appear to be his greatest threats. Favourite Bolshoi Ballet is trained by eight-time Derby winner Aidan O'Brien and Irish 2000 Guineas winner Mac Swiney by Jim Bolger who at 79 is enjoying a memorable season.

Dunlop, 52, as urbane and unflappable on the outside as his father, said: "It is surreal to have a son of a champion I trained, surreal him making it to the Derby and to have it named after your father is even more surreal," he told AFP by phone from his stables in Newmarket.

"And quite a lot of pressure!

"I hope for everyone concerned he runs well, of course thankfully he is not aware of this attention!

"Everyone wants the Derby to produce a sentimental story and this is a lovely sentimental story.

"It will be an emotional day for sure."

Dunlop concedes the horse and human do share characteristics.

"He is very laid back in the morning but pretty bright in the afternoon," he said.

The naming of the horse was not Dunlop's idea but Snow Fairy's owner 88-year-old Cristina Patino.

"She has been an incredibly loyal owner, she had horses with dad for over 30 years and was very fond of my parents," he said.

"She asked my mother (Sue) shortly after my father died and mum agreed to it.

"It was very brave to call it after my dad but so far it has worked well.

"Sadly mum has died since as well but they will both be looking down from above on Saturday.

"No doubt dad will be giving me a bollocking!"

- 'Ice cream and cake' -

Patino is taking a box at Epsom for the day and whilst it won't be the packed stands Dunlop senior's two winners Shirley Heights and Erhaab won in front of there will be around 4000 spectators.

Only trainers and stable staff were permitted last year due to the coronavirus pandemic when Serpentine ran away with the prize starting from the same stall 12 as John Leeper.

Dunlop was present for Erhaab's victory but for Shirley Heights's win in 1978 he was at boarding school and watched on TV in the headmaster's study -- though Derby rivalries did not stop at the entrance to the school.

"Charles O'Brien was at my prep school and his father Vincent like Aidan O'Brien (no relation) these days seemed to win it every year!" said Dunlop.

"The previous year The Minstrel (fifth of O'Brien's six Derby winners) had won it and Charles's parents provided the school with ice cream and cake.

"I pleaded with Dad that if he won the Derby he would not let the side down and also provide ice cream and cake and lo and behold it arrived in the wake of Shirley Heights's victory."

Dunlop and his younger brother Harry -- also a trainer -- learned from their father on and off the racetrack including taking horses far afield to plunder rich pickings.

However, nice as the prize money is it does not equate to landing the Derby -- a race he has never finished better than fifth in (on three occasions).

"If it was not for dad and my brother Tim who died (the eldest who was due to become a trainer but died in a car crash in France in 1987) I would not be here," he said.

"This is a very major story and my greatest excitement as a trainer and let us hope it happens.

"If it does not so be it we will dust ourselves off and go again."

pi/nr

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