Splendid Isolation – Serpentine and McNamara Blow Rivals Away  – By Cormac Thompson

Derby day at Epsom Downs is always a fascinating spectacle, top hats and tails are a common sight with either side of the home straight thronged with people cheering on horses that will engrave themselves in racing history. 2020 was different, however, as silence echoed around this famous racecourse. “It was the weirdest of all Derbies,” exclaimed ITV presenter Ed Chamberlain. While he may be correct in the eyes of some, Limerick jockey Emmet McNamara didn’t care, it was his day in the spotlight, and deservedly so.
Nijinsky, Shergar, See the Stars, Galileo and now Serpentine have all powered up the Epsom straight and engraved themselves in Derby history.
Serpentine (25/1) maintained social distancing with his rivals and was in splendid isolation turning Tattenham Corner with a comprehen-sive twelve-length lead in hand. He then stayed on strongly to the line, driven by Emmet McNamara in what was a masterclass of a ride from the Limerick native. Heading into Saturday’s big race, Serpentine was an outsider in the field of sixteen going to post, having only had the first victory of his career a week prior to the race in a maiden at the Curragh, but that didn’t bother Emmet who had his homework done and knew that he had a live chance, and when you’re riding for the maestro that is Aidan O’Brien you know anything is possible. “I had only sat on him at home a few times before the race but I was as impressed as anyone by his win in the Curragh the Sunday previously. I had spoken to Wayne [Lordan] who rode him that day, and Aidan who had seen how well he had come out of the race and was getting more and more confident as the week went on. I was getting more confident from what they were telling me and he was looking like a good ride in the race.” Being part of Team Ballydoyle can have its certain pressures but one of the benefits is being in the company of top class jockeys who can lend advice on race day. “Yeah, we all discussed how we thought the race was going to pan out, we all ride our individual horses to run to the best of their ability, I had a plan in my head and Aidan wanted me to ride the horse the way I ended up riding him and I was happy to go along with that. Seimi [Heffernan] walked the track with me, he has a wealth of experience around there and he told me if he was on my horse this is where he would like to be.”
The early parts of the race went smoothly for Emmet who feels that getting the perfect start is vital in these races and the start at Epsom is a particularly difficult one as the horses tag to the right hand rail before switching left up the hill.
“Seimi had said to me it’s not vital to get over to the right hand rail before you swing back to the left side so I took a straight true line up to the top of the hill and used that as my point to aim at. Yeah, the start is important at Epsom but it is important in every race, I mean you don’t want to lose your race at the start, you can win very few at the start but you can definitely lose them.” Approaching Tattenham Corner Emmet turned up the heat on his rivals by going almost twelve lengths clear. “I didn’t know [how far ahead he was], I couldn’t hear the horses behind me so I knew I was at least a couple of lengths clear but I wasn’t sure and I didn’t really want to be looking around. When you’re in front you have to have confidence that you are going the right pace and if you’re inclined to be looking around you and you’re on a stayer you’re thinking have I gone too slow? Should I be stretching them out? Or if they are miles behind you, you think “have I gone too fast? So, I try not to look behind me when making the running, but I knew I was a couple clear when all I could hear was my own horse breathing under me.”
The Epsom straight is long and tests horses to the limit, a run made to look more daunting by the empty grandstands and infield areas enveloping the stretch to the line.
“It’s hard to know how my horse would have reacted to the crowd being there but there is nothing in his temperament to suggest he wouldn’t have handled a big crowd on the day. It didn’t make a difference to me, I was just delighted to win the race. It was a fan-tastic weekend altogether, I am still struggling to believe it happened but it did anyway thank God.”
So, as eerily quiet as it was at Epsom, Emmet McNamara and Serpentine take a bow, you deserve your places in racing history.