This weekend sees the running of the biggest thoroughbred horse race in Britain, The Derby. It takes place at Epsom Downs racecourse, about 12 miles to the south of central London, and always draws a massive crowd many of whom will turn up in top hat and tails for the day.
The Derby always takes place in the first week of June and is a race for three year old colts over 1 mile 4 furlongs. Its part of the two day Derby Festival, on the Friday before the Derby the premier race of the year for three year old fillies, The Oaks, is run over the same distance. The Oaks was first run in 1779 and is named after the then Earl of Derby’s estate four miles from Epsom where he and some friends decided on the race. The Derby began in 1780 after the Earl and Sir Charles Bunbury flipped a coin to see who should have the colts race named after them. Derby won the toss but Bunbury’s horse won the first race.
Epsom is a unique and tricky course for horses and riders, its not a circuit, The Derby runners have to switch from one side of the track to the other after the start running up hill, then have a long swing down hill to quite a sharp turn, before a long straight with a dip and on to the finish. Frankie Dettori rides Authorized, one of the biggest favourites in years, and The Derby is just about the only big race Dettori hasn’t won, he’ll probably never have a better chance than this year. 19 horses are entered.
Part of the racecourse at Epsom is on public land and it used to draw crowds of 250,000 on Derby Day. Now they’ve restricted the free views and attendence is more around the 100,000 mark. If you’re thinking of going the first race on Ladies Day, Friday 1 June, is at 1.40pm and the last of the day’s seven races is at 5.20pm, The Oaks is off at 4.05pm. On Derby Day, Saturday 2 June, the first race is at 2pm, the last at 5.40pm and The Derby itself at 4.20pm. Trains run from London’s Waterloo and Victoria stations to either Tattenham Corner or Epsom Downs stations.
Below is a clip of the 2006 Derby, won by Sir Percy in a brillant four way finish.