The 2020 Investec Derby featured six jockeys having their first ride in the premier Classic. One of them was 30-year-old Emmet McNamara and he ended up having the thrill of a lifetime as he made all the running on the Aidan O’Brien-trained Serpentine.
O’Brien fielded six runners with Mogul (7/1), Russian Emperor (6/1) and Vatican City (17/2) considered his principal contenders. Serpentine was sent off at 25/1, having only lost his maiden tag at the Curragh a week earlier when making all the running.
Plenty assumed Serpentine was merely in the race as something of a pacemaker when he established an early lead. But as he simply went further and further clear it became apparent that a big surprise was possibly on the cards. Three furlongs out, the partnership was in splendid isolation and still galloping along strongly. If McNamara had got his fractions right, then his pursuers were in big trouble. He had. And they were.
The pack closed a little towards the end but McNamara and Serpentine were still five and a half lengths clear at the line. Tom Marquand, another jockey riding in the race for the first time, was runner-up on 50/1 chance Khalifa Sat.
McNamara said at the press conference following his famous victory: “I didn’t expect to be sitting here. The only thing I would say in that regard is that Aidan O’Brien filled me with a huge amount of confidence, so it’s not a complete surprise. If he tells you that the sky is green, you’d believe him.
“I thought I was after getting quite an easy lead; I couldn’t hear a thing all the way through the race. I never looked behind me, but I couldn’t hear a thing behind me. All I could hear was the horse breathing, and he was in a nice rhythm and I knew I wasn’t after going a million miles an hour, so I was imagining they were ignoring me a small bit and I was just hoping that the clock in my own head was working a little bit, because I thought I had saved enough in the first half of the race going up the hill, I didn’t think I had gone mad, I thought I had enough to get home and thankfully I did”
McNamara had not ridden a winner for about nine months and, laughing, said: “I’ve been saving myself! Things are very tough in Ireland in terms of getting rides, and I am at Aidan’s every morning of the week so I am not going here, there and everywhere to ride out.”
The unlikely Derby hero grew up in County Limerick and comes from a racing background. His father, Eric McNamara, is a jumps trainer and a brother, Conor McNamara, is also a jockey. McNamara was champion for two years running on the pony racing circuit.