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Epsom Derby History

Having been in action for around 360 years, Epsom Downs Racecourse has an abundance of rich, intriguing history.

Although there are some documents that may suggest racing on the Epsom Downs was established as early as the 1620s, the first officially recorded race took place in 1661.

The 1700s saw British Thoroughbred racehorse Eclipse run in 18 races and reign undefeated throughout his career, as well as the formation of The Oaks, a race organised by the 12th Earl Of Derby for him and his friends to race their three-year-old fillies.

The Oaks, named after The Earl’s nearby estate, was so popular that the following year a second race was added – The Derby – which was to be contested by three-year-old colts and fillies.  The inaugural running of The Derby was won by Diomed, ridden by jockey Sam Urnall, trained by Mr Teasdale and owned by Sir Charles Bunbury.

In 1913, Suffragette Emily Davison famously threw herself in front of Anmer, King George V’s horse, obtaining fatal injuries that resulted in her death four days later.

Epsom Derby Racecourse History

Epsom Downs Racecourse was opened in 1661, the day of the first recorded race at this idyllic location in Surrey.

Designed by Willmott Dixon and estimated to have cost around £23.5 million, the new Duchess’s Stand was opened in 2009 at the racecourse. It can hold 11,000 people and has a 960 m2 (10 000 sq ft) hall. Banquets, seminars, and exhibits will all be held there.

Epsom Derby History

The first-ever Epsom Derby took place in 1780, the year after the inaugural running of The Oaks, organised by the 12th Earl of Derby and his friend Sir Charles Bunbury.

Except during World Wars I and II, the Derby has been held at Epsom every year. The Derby was held at Newmarket from 1915 to 1918, and again from 1940 to 1945. The ‘New Derby’ is the name given to these races.

During the nineteenth century, the race’s starting point was shifted twice. Lord George Bentinck proposed the first change in 1848 before the second alteration took place in 1872. The precise length of the race was discovered in 1991 to be one mile, four furlongs, and ten yards.

The Derby was first held on a Thursday in late May or early June, depending on where Easter fell. The race was transferred to a Wednesday in 1838 to accommodate train schedules, but it continued to observe the versatile dates of Easter.

From 1900 to 1995, the race was held on the first Wednesday in June, with the exception of 1915 to 1918 (during World War I), when it was held on a Tuesday. The race was held on a Saturday during WWII, from 1942 to 1945, as well as in the postwar years of 1947 to 1950, and again in 1953.

The date was shifted from the first Wednesday in June to the first Saturday in June in 1995, and both races have been held on that day since then.

Epsom Derby Records

The Epsom Derby has been running for a long time, which means there have been many records and milestones set and broken over the years.

Let’s take a look at the most successful horses, jockeys, and racehorse trainers that have shaped the Epsom Derby Festival’s history:

Most Successful Horses

Here are the horses with the highest number of achievements in each of The Epsom Derby Festival’s featured races:

The Oaks

As The Oaks is restricted to horses aged just three years old, horses do not get the opportunity to compete in this race more than once.

The fastest horse to complete The Oaks was Love in 2020 with a winning time of 2 minutes and 34.06 seconds.

The widest winning margin in the history of The Oaks was 12 lengths, a record set by Sun Princess in 1983.

The Derby

Since The Derby is restricted to horses aged just three years old, horses do not get the opportunity to compete in this race more than once.

The fastest horse to complete The Derby was Workforce in 2010 with a winning time of 2 minutes and 31.33 seconds.

The widest winning margin in the history of The Derby was 10 lengths, a record set by Shergar in 1981.

Most Successful Jockeys

Here are the jockeys with the highest number of achievements in each of The Epsom Derby Festival’s featured races:

The Oaks

The jockey with the most wins in the history of The Epsom Oaks Stakes Flat Race is Frank Buckle, who won 9 times between 1797 and 1823:

  • Nike (1797)
  • Bellissima (1798)
  • Bellina (1799)
  • Scotia (1802)
  • Theophania (1803)
  • Meteora (1805)
  • Neva (1817)
  • Corinne (1818)
  • Zinc (1823)

The Derby

The jockey with the most wins in the history of The Epsom Derby Stakes Flat Race is Lester Piggott, who won 9 times between 1954 and 1983:

  • Never Say Die (1954)
  • Crepello (1957)
  • St. Paddy (1960)
  • Sir Ivor (1968)
  • Nijinsky (1970)
  • Roberto (1972)
  • Empery (1976)
  • The Minstrel (1977)
  • Teenoso (1983)

Most Successful Trainers

Here are the racehorse trainers with the highest number of achievements in each of The Epsom Derby Festival’s featured races:

The Oaks

The racehorse trainer that has conditioned the most horses to victory in The Epsom Oaks is Robert Robson with 13 winners between 1805 and 1825:

  • Scotia (1802)
  • Pelisse (1804)
  • Meteora (1805)
  • Briseis (1807)
  • Morel (1808)
  • Maid of Orleans (1809)
  • Music (1813)
  • Minuet (1815)
  • Landscape (1816)
  • Corinne (1818)
  • Pastille (1822)
  • Zinc (1823)
  • Wings (1825)

The Derby

The racehorse trainer that has conditioned the most horses to victory in The Epsom Derby is Aidan O’Brien with 8 wins between 2001 and 2020:

  • Galileo (2001)
  • High Chaparral (2002)
  • Camelot (2012)
  • Ruler of the World (2013)
  • Australia (2014)
  • Wings of Eagles (2017)
  • Anthony Van Dyck (2019)
  • Serpentine (2020)

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