The horse represented Dunlop's best chance of an Epsom Derby winner for 11 years as he was rated fourth favourite at 8/1 for the prestigious mile-and-a-half race. John Leeper was also claimed by the legendary Frankie Dettori, but he disappointed on the turf surface and failed to give the Italian his third Derby crown.
He finished over 20 lengths behind the winner Adayar and particularly struggled towards the end of the race.
John Leeper's impressive beginnings
In his first race of 2021 on April 30, John Leeper was ridden by Hollie Doyle and took his maiden victory in the QuinnBet Novice Stakes at Newcastle.
At the start of the race, he found himself towards the back of the field but he came through strongly to lead the race in the final furlong and win it by four lengths. Priced as a 9/4 joint favourite, it was a triumphant step up to a distance of one mile and two furlongs.
Just over two weeks later on May 15, John Leeper made it back-to-back victories over the same distance by winning the Betway Fairway Stakes at Newmarket.
Priced at 6/4, he beat Tasman Bay by one-and-three-quarter lengths under the stewardship of jockey William Buick, who had ridden John Leeper on his debut. He did pull hard in that race though, which was slowly run, giving rise to question marks ahead of the Derby.
With so much personal meaning behind the horse though, the race was still special for Dunlop and his family. However, there is no denying that the questions raised remain unanswered following the comprehensive nature of his defeat.
Ed Dunlop, Adam Kirby and John Leeper's connections
His first victory came in the late 1990s and he has since guided over 1,000 domestic winners, as well as enjoying significant international success. His most famous horses include Ouija Board, Red Cadeaux and Snow Fairy.
Jockey Adam Kirby had been booked to ride John Leeper in the Epsom Derby, coming full circle as Kirby rode John Leeper's dam Snow Fairy in her juvenile season in 2009. However, on the Wednesday before the race, he was replaced by Frankie Dettori in the saddle. Kirby went on to guide the winner, Adayar, to success in the Derby.