Donovan, foaled in 1885 by Galopin out of Mowerina, was, undoubtedly, one of the best British racehorses of the late nineteenth century, as his record of only three defeats in twenty-one starts attests. Fated to live in the shadow of another brilliant Galopin son, his near-contemporary St. Simon, his legacy is through the descendants of his daughters.
A strong light bay colt, Donovan was bred by one of the most successful and popular gentlemen of the English turf, William Cavendish-Bentinck, the 6th Duke of Portland. Early on Donovan showed exceptional talent and was sent to be trained at the Newmarket yard of George Dawson, nephew of the renowned trainer Mathew Dawson. The younger Dawson sent Donovan out thirteen times as a two-year-old and Donovan was the dominant two-year-old of his year, winning eleven of his thirteen starts that season and capturing nearly every major juvenile race.
As a three-year-old Donovan won the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Leicester beating Pioneer and the filly Minthe decisively. Donovan was a firm favorite for the Two Thousand Guineas. It caused a major shock when he was beaten just a head by the outsider Enthusiast, a colt Donovan had soundly beaten in the Middle Park Plate and the Prince of Wales's Stakes. The surprising defeat proved an anomaly, as in his next start, the 1-1/4 mile Newmarket Stakes, Donovan easily won over sixteen others. He then won the Derby with Tommy Loates up.
Donovan's performances the rest of the season were masterful. His next start was at Royal Ascot, in the Prince of Wales's Stakes, which he won easily and the St. Leger which he won from Miguel by three lengths. This was followed by the Lancashire Plate, ten days after the St. Leger which Donovan again won easily. The last race for Donovan that season was the Royal Stakes at Newmarket, after which he retired. All told, Donovan captured eighteen of his twenty-one starts and earned £55,443, at that time a world record for purse money won.
At stud, Donovan was a successful stallion, ranking among the top twenty in Britain seven times.