Without a win since October McNamara rides long-shot Serpentine to Derby shock

·4-min read

Emmet McNamara is facing two weeks of quarantine but has enough memories to get him through a lifetime of solitude after stunning the racing world on Serpentine in the Epsom Derby, writes Will Jennings.

The Limerick jockey piloted Aidan O’Brien’s 25-1 shot to a historic victory on the Downs, his first winner since October sending O’Brien deeper into Derby folklore with a record eighth win in the race.

Not since Celtic High King won his maiden at Leopardstown had McNamara ridden a winner but this was a performance for the ages in Surrey, scorching to a thrilling five and a half length victory and leaving the field for dead.

McNamara will face compulsory 14-day quarantine when he returns to Ireland but couldn’t care less after etching his name into Derby folklore.

“I’d take 14 months quarantine, never mind 14 days!” the 30-year-old joked.

“I’m sure I’ll be okay, and that’s plenty of time to watch replays! I’ve been saving myself [for this first win since October!]

“You’re always dreaming of these races and think they’re possible, but it’s only when you start riding against these other guys that you realise how hard it is to win them.

“I thought to myself a couple of weeks ago this could possibly be a big year, but second in an Irish Derby and winning an English this week is unbelievable.

“I hope my poor old Dad doesn’t die of a heart attack right now! He was extremely proud of me riding in the race today and I’ve spoken to him about 40 times in the last 24 hours.

“I can’t imagine this will ever happen again so I’m going to try and savour it while I can - I couldn’t care less that there’s no-one here to be honest with you!”

Emmet, son of Irish trainer Eric McNamara, finished second in last week’s Irish Derby at the Curragh on Serpentine's stablemate Tiger Moth.

But he went one better in the prestigious English Classic in what will surely go down as one of the most surreal Derbies of modern times, pushing Serpentine into the lead to set the early pace.

English King, Kameko and O’Brien’s five other raiders loomed behind but there was just no catching Serpentine, who produced a dazzling Downs display to maintain an unprecedented lead on the home straight.

Andrew Balding’s Khalifa Sat and fellow Ballydoyle entry Amhran Na Bhfiann looked to cut the gap but Serpentine’s advantage proved insurmountable as McNamara soared to Epsom glory.

The mile and a half duel was just the three-year-old’s fourth trip to that distance after finishing tenth in his maiden at Galway and winning his prep run at the Curragh.

And partnered by McNamara - who was yet to win a Classic and had not won a race for nine months - his chances were overlooked in the build-up, as O’Brien’s fellow raiders Mogul and Russian Emperor dominated the market with English King and Kameko.

McNamara will now head to Chantilly to ride Fort Myers in the Prix du Jockey Club as he continues his globetrotting pursuit of Classic success.

O’Brien’s Fort Myers is a 40-1 shot but McNamara says he revels in riding dark horses.

“I’m obviously surprised that Serpentine won the Derby but it wasn’t a huge, huge surprise,” he added.

“I was lucky I got on that horse - there are a thousand other lads in the weighing room who are more talented than me but they didn’t ride Serpentine in the Derby.

“All I could hear was the horse breathing and I wasn’t aware that I was a few lengths clear - he was in a good rhythm, he was relaxed and I couldn’t hear a thing around me and I didn’t really want to be looking!

“I’ve just got a huge amount of thanks to Aidan O’Brien and the whole of his family - I’ve spent a fantastic six years there, and thanks to all the owners who’ve shown faith in me as I really appreciate it.

“The plan is now to go to the French Derby which will hopefully be another big day, so I’m looking forward to three Derbies in the space of little over a week and I’m delighted to be a part of it.

“It’s a bit surreal really, and just unbelievable.”