IT remains one of the most devastating come-from-behind victories ever witnessed in a major age classic on Australian tracks. When General Jeff not only overcame the handicap of box six, but also a tardy start, to take out the 1980 National Derby, he stamped himself as one of the best sprinters of his, or any other, generation.
Trained by Christine Coleman, General Jeff was a beautifully-bred white and fawn dog by Ungwilla Lad out of Odious. Both sire and dam were former champion sprinters trained by Jim and Christine Coleman.
General Jeff was plagued throughout his short 27-start career by nagging ‘track leg’ as well as other injuries, but on his day was one of the best sprinters in the country. The other factor which hampered him in his career was his tendency to be slow out of the boxes so that on most occasions he was spotting the leaders substantial starts.
The 1980 Derby series, run over 530 metres on the old grass circuit at Wentworth Park, was conducted over three betting rounds, with quarter-finals taking place on 19 April.
General Jeff was the pre-post favourite for the series based on his amazing ability. From just nine starts he had scored five wins by margins of five, seven and half, 12, two, and eight lengths respectively at Harold Park, Lawnton, Gabba, and Richmond.
Drawn well in box one for his Derby quarter-final, General Jeff began reasonably well and raced in third place from the first turn until the leger. He then took control of the race and destroyed his rivals, crossing the line 12 lengths clear in a fast 30.73, just 11/100ths outside the track record held by Paso Fashion.
Five days later the semi-finals of the Derby were held and this time, from box seven, General Jeff was tardily away and collided with another runner so that he was last in the field of seven at the first turn. He was checked at this point and was only fifth at the leger and spotting a smart sprinter in Terrific Law, who had been a finalist in the 1980 Maturity Classic at Olympic Park, at least 10 lengths start. Sweeping onto the home corner General Jeff was still five lengths off the lead but he sprouted wings in the straight and overwhelmed Terrific Law to score by a length and a half in 30.99, the best of the night.
The National Derby final took place on 26 April with General Jeff sent out a warm 5/4 ($2.25) favourite despite having drawn badly in box six. Those expected to test General Jeff were Ambrose Moss, who had run fifth in the 1980 Bi-Annual Classic over 457 metres at Harold Park, and Lord Raleigh, the winner of the 1979 Young Star Classic at Wentworth Park.
In reality nothing came close to General Jeff, although at the first turn when his brown rug could be seen in about sixth place, his prospects were not looking good to the 10,000 or so spectators on hand.
The strong sprinter surged through the field down the back straight and swept onto the home corner a narrow leader. From there it was a procession as General Jeff blazed away and passed the judge nine lengths clear of the baby of the field, Victor Jara, with Very Sharp third, Lord Raleigh fourth, Ambrose Moss sixth and Terrific Law seventh.
It was, and remains, the widest winning margin in the 52 runnings of the Derby, eclipsing the eight-length victory by Baguio in 1976.
General Jeff ran the journey in 30.78 to equal the race record set the previous year by the mighty Victorian sprinter Tegimi.
Christine Coleman became only the third trainer to win the National Futurity and National Derby double in the same year, equaling the efforts of Geoff Watt, who had won the 1971 National Futurity with Top Saba and the National Derby with Bomber’s Gift, and Allen Wheeler who had won the 1974 National Futurity with Tintawin and the National Derby with Steelflex.