Battle of the Sexes: Famous fillies to have beaten the boys in Classics

New York Girl now bids to become the first filly to win the Irish Derby for 26 years and join an illustrious list of female winners

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Frankie Dettori - the last man to win the Irish Derby on a filly - celebrates winning the St Leger, a race where girl power reigned supreme in 1992 with User Friendly's triumph

Beating the boys is no mean feat but New York Girl can add her name to an illustrious list of female Classic winners on Saturday, writes Will Jennings.

Not since Balanchine in 1994 has a Queen been crowned at the Curragh as Frankie Dettori partnered Hilal Ibrahim’s horse in a triumph that made it two wins in five years for the fillies.

Girl power reigned supreme in 1990 as Salsabil stormed to victory, but you’d have to cast your eye back 90 years for a previous female Derby winner as Gallinaria beat the boys at the turn of the century.

It’s not just the Curragh where this dynamic comes to the fore, however, and we’ve cast our eye back on some of the most memorable female triumphs in Classics history.

Fifinella - Epsom Derby, 1916

No fewer than six fillies have soared to Epsom glory since the race’s inception in 1780, the most recent being Fifinella all the way back in 1916.

Trained by Dick Dawson, Fifinella came into the contest off the back of an impressive two-year-old victory in the Cheveley Park Stakes, as she vied to become the third filly to win the Classic in just eight years.

And following in the footsteps of Signorinetta and Tagalie - Derby winners in 1908 and 1912 - proved no problem, with the race’s change of location during the war doing little to hinder Fifinella’s performance.

Newmarket nirvana replaced dominance on the Downs as Dawson’s star sparkled on the storied Suffolk turf, making her the sixth, and most recent, winner of the prestigious English Classic.

Salsabil - Irish Derby, 1990

No horse since Gallinaria in 1900 had reigned supreme in the Curragh showpiece - but John Dunlop’s star put an end to that in style in 1990.

Salsabil achieved the unthinkable 30 years ago, arriving in Ireland after winning both of England’s Classics for fillies in the 1000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks.



Toppling a colt-dominated field at the Curragh lay between her and Flat racing immortality, but Salsabil dealt with the pressure as she capped off a stunning season either side of the Irish Sea.

Jockey Willie Carson hit the accelerator as his mount stormed past Roger Charlton’s Deploy, sending the crowd into raptures and ending a near-century wait for a female Irish Derby winner.

User Friendly - St Leger, 1992

Another filly who soared to multiple Classic victories was Clive Brittain’s User Friendly, who secured a scintillating treble of Epsom Oaks, Irish Oaks and St Leger triumphs in 1992.

User Friendly’s season rapidly snowballed into success after success, winning on the Downs before travelling to Kildare vying to dazzle in similar fashion.



She answered any questions about doubling her dominance in style, as a trip to Doncaster then beckoned where she would attempt to beat the boys for the first time in a Classic.

And she famously did that ease, leaving the colts in the rear view mirror to win by three-and-a-half-lengths and etch her name into racing folklore.

Balanchine - Irish Derby, 1994

Dettori has no fewer than 29 English and Irish Classics to his name - but it all started with Balanchine back in 1994.

Dettori piloted his mount to a brilliant victory in the Epsom Oaks, before travelling to the Curragh bidding to replicate User Friendly’s exploits two years earlier in winning Classic races in both England and Ireland.

And a 23-year-old Dettori was the perfect man for the job, slamming the throttle on the home straight to make Balanchine the most recent filly to been coronated a Derby Queen.

New York Girl - Irish Derby, 2020?

Joseph O’Brien’s New York Girl now vies to become the first filly for 26 years to win the 1m4f showpiece.



And she would also follow in the footsteps of American horse Rags to Riches in toppling the boys in a Classic, as Todd Pletcher’s filly surged to Belmont Stakes glory over Carlin in a 2007 Big Apple thriller.

New York Girl will face a stern test from Santiago, Arthur's Kingdom and Crossfirehurricane, but it's all eyes on the Curragh as she vies to write the latest chapter in the history of racing girl power reigning supreme.


New York Girl will face a stern test from Santiago, Arthur's Kingdom and Crossfirehurricane, but it's all eyes on the Curragh as she vies to write the latest chapter in the history of racing girl power reigning supreme.

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