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Frankie Dettori after winning the Epsom Derby.

epsom derby - the history

The Epsom Derby is the blue riband race for the thoroughbred flat racing horse. Held at Epsom Downs each June, the Derby is a Group One over 1m4f for three-year-old colts and fillies. It is the fourth classic contest of the season, preceded by the 2000 Guineas and Epsom Oaks, and is the second leg of the Triple Crown. 

The Derby is Britain’s richest race and the most prestigious of the five classic’s. A prize fund of over £1.3 million ensures the contest is the grandest of the season and one in which is viewed by millions around the world. It is widely-regarded as Britain’s biggest race-day and has become one of the nation’s greatest yearly occasions.
The Epsom Derby has welcomed some of the world’s very best thoroughbred racehorses throughout its rich history. The contest is not only a momentous occasion for horse and connections, but the Derby also stands as a pivotal contest for the breeding industry. Victors of the Epsom classic routinely move on to enjoy lucrative careers at stud as leading stallions. The great Galileo, winner of the 2001 Derby, has progressed to become Britain and Ireland’s top stallion. Fellow Derby victors Sea The Stars and New Approach have also cemented their position in the breeding ranks with many more expected to do so in the future.

Many of the world’s leading operations including Coolmore and Darley specifically target the Epsom Derby as the centre-point of a thoroughbreds breeding careers. Winning the lucrative 1m4f classic catapults a horse’s worth at stud and in turn increases the revenue each breeding establishment generates.

Winning the Epsom Derby is not a straightforward task, however. The Surrey setting is renowned for being one of Europe’s most unique tracks and requires a certain mixture of attributes to succeed. It is a true test of stamina and mentality as the undulating turns and one-sided camber can catch inexperienced horse’s off-guard. The sweeping left-handed turn into the home-straight, named Tattenham Corner, sees many contenders win or lose their races. There is a demanding right-to-left camber inside the final three-furlongs that routinely sees runner race against the far-side rail before a stiff uphill finish.

famous epsom derby winners

Founded in 1780, the Epsom Derby was originally contested over a distance of one-mile before behind transferred to 1m4f in 1784. It was run on a Thursday in late May or early June, depending on the time of Easter, up until being moved to a Wednesday in 1838. From 1900 to 1995 the Derby was raced on the first Wednesday of June but has since moved to the month’s first Saturday since 1995. During both World War I and World War II the Derby was run at Newmarket and renamed the ‘New Derby’.

For the three-year-old thoroughbred horse, winning the Epsom Derby is the greatest achievement in racing. It is one of the oldest prizes in the sport and brings with it immense rewards both on and off of the track. In recent years, the Derby has produced some of the most thrilling sporting triumphs. 

In 1981, the Derby hosted one of the best performances in its history when Shergar annihilated the field to win by 10-lengths. It was a hugely memorable display and made Shergar a British household name. The horse would then become a fan-favourite before being involved in his notorious kidnapping in 1983. 

The 2010 renewal saw the Sir Michael Stoute-trained Workforce storm to victory under jockey Ryan Moore to win by seven-lengths. It was a performance that smashed the course record and cemented the horse’s claims as one of the greatest winners of the race. Workforce went on to later win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and become European Champion Three-year-old Colt.

the world's most prestigious race

Epsom Derby day is also a fantastic celebration of British tradition and fashion. A number of Royal family members, including Her Majesty The Queen, routinely make the trip to the Surrey track each year for the flat season’s premier race. Celebrities from all industries follow thousands of enthusiastic racegoers in experiencing a part of the day’s unparalleled atmosphere.


Every year the Epsom Downs are made open to the general public who can enjoy the leading horse racing action for free whilst indulging in the day’s traditional family fair entertainment. Record suggests over 100,000 in total descend upon Epsom for their showcase afternoon and each play a major role in cementing the Derby’s position as one of the country’s leading yearly events.

The incredible combination of Europe’s best thoroughbred flat racing, rich British tradition and leading fashion
 and entertainment makes the Epsom a sporting event like no other. Its prominent position in the sports calendar showcases its importance as the three-year-old colts and fillies seek to cement further memories in the race’s long-standing history.

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