A Short History of the Epsom Derby
There is huge history attached to the Epsom Derby spanning back 243 years. It all started before the first recorded race in 1780 where the Stanley family, Earls of Derby had a history of horse racing and instituted this on the Isle of Man. Over the decades and generations, the tradition continued until the Derby originated in 1779 following the first running of the Oaks Stakes. As legend has it, the 12th Earl of Derby and his guest Sir Charles Bunbury decided a new race should be created. Between the two of them a coin was tossed to determine if the race would be called ‘The Derby’ or ‘The Bunbury Cup’.
The following year in 4 May 1780 the first Derby was placed under starters orders. It was co-incidental that Sir Charles Bunbury owned the horse Diomed, that went on to win the race. Contested over one mile it was not long before Lord Derby could boast a winner in 1787 with a horse by the name of Sir Peter Teazle.
The length of the race eventually increased and was settled as late as 1991 when the official distance was classed as one mile, four furlongs and 10 yards. Over history the date and days upon which the Derby race event changed until 1995 whereupon it was settled that the race should start on the first Saturday of June.
Epsom has always been the official racetrack for the Derby except during world-war one and two.
The Derby was the first ever televised outdoor sporting event in 1931 and such is its fame and popularity, many races across the globe were named after it such as the Irish Derby, Australian Derby, Kentucky Derby and the Japanese Derby.
Famous Epsom Derby Horses
Running Rein and Maccabeus
Let’s start back in 1844 and an obscure horse that was made famous for all the wrong reasons. With the popularity of gambling on the Epsom Derby, people would go to extraordinary lengths to win their bet. As such a betting coup was arranged illegally for the race. Running Reins set off and ended up winning the race, however, it was discovered thereafter Running Reins was not who he seemed to be. He had been swapped for a four-year-old horse by the name of Maccabeus.
What a horse! In 1981 Shergar ridden by Walter Swinburn, powered its way to a jaw dropping 10 length victory over the rest of the field creating the biggest winning margin of all time in the Epsom Derby. Retired in 1983, Shergar was sadly stolen and was never seen again, believed to have been held for ransom and ultimately murdered.
Galileo and Serpentine
Serpentine was sired by Galileo who won the Epsom Derby in 2001. Serpentine went on to win the race in 2020 that was affected by the covid 19 pandemic. Starting at odds of 25/1 Serpentine was clearly not fancied but led the Epsom Derby from start to finish winning by a comfortable five and a half lengths.
Famous Epsom Derby Jockeys
By far the most successful jockey of the Epsom Derby jockeying nine different horses to victory over a period of almost 30 years. He rode winners including Never Say Die and Nijinsky, Piggott was British flat racing champion jockey 11 times.
Another hugely successful jockey of his era, Dettori found the Epsom Derby hard going. It was only on his fifteenth attempt that he managed to ride Authorized home to seal his first win. Another eight years later he won for the second time on Golden Horn.
Lester Piggott was 18 when he won on Never Say Die, Walter Swinburn was 19 when he won riding Shergar. John Parsons was allegedly 16 back in 1862 riding Caractacus to a Derby win.
A three-time winner on Shergar (1981) winning by a record 10 lengths, Shahrastani (1986) and Lammtarra (1995), Swinburn was a hugely successful flat racing jockey.
Famous Epsom Derby Trainers
Aiden O’ Brien is the most successful trainer of the Epsom Derby with eight winning horses including Galileo and Serpentine. A distinguished career winning the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle on three occasions with Istabraq, a horse that has brought him major success.
Harry Wragg was a jockey before becoming a professional horse trainer. He trained Psidium to the 1961 Derby but had previously jockeyed three horses to Derby triumphs between 1928 and 1942. Only three other people have managed to win as a jockey and train a winning horse, Matt Stephenson, John Forth and Robert Sherwood.
Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling
Each of these trainers are seven-time winners of the Epsom Derby behind the all-time successful Aiden O’Brien.
Elaine Burke, Marjorie Nightingall, Rosemary Lomax, Nan Birch, Lady Herries, Julie Cecil and Criquette Head-Maarek
A mention for the Ladies to have trained horses that have been entered into the Derby. The best finisher was Libertarian trained by Elaine Burke, finishing second in 2013.
Epsom Downs Racecourse and the Epsom Derby Festival
Located in the heart of the Surrey countryside Epsom Downs is only a few minutes away from Epsom Town Centre and can easily be reached from junction 9 of the M25.
The left-handed grassed course covers 1 mile 4 furlongs 10 yards and is a U-shape. The course features some testing climbs and descents but the main straight is mostly downhill providing for some of the highest paced horse racing in the world. The capacity of the racecourse is a massive 130,000 people.
With a potential 130,000 people arriving on raceday organisation is key to keep the punters satisfied. Several high-quality restaurants including the Derby Suite Experience and The Carvery are to name but a few. Private boxes are available with VIP options or, if you plan more than a one day stay, the Holiday Inn is nearby. There are facilities for disable persons and car parking is available.
Now you have absorbed the inside outs of the Epsom Derby why don’t you visit mr.play to have a bet on this year’s meeting. Check out our exclusive betting blog to give you some ideas to make your money go further!
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