There are five Classics on the British racing calendar, and while the 1,000 Guineas, the 2,000 Guineas, the Oaks, and the St Leger always feature among the seasonal highlights, it is the 1m4f event of the Epsom Derby which stands tall above the rest. On British shores, there is simply no race to compare in terms of the prestige and breeding value bestowed upon the winner.
First held in 1780 – and allegedly gaining its name when the Earl of Derby won a coin toss with Sir Charles Bunbury – the event has inspired copycat contests around the world, with the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs perhaps the most famous example. However, as with so many things in life, the original remains the best.
Given the roller coaster nature of the track at Epsom, the Derby is billed as the most complete test of the thoroughbred, placing demands on the balance, speed, and stamina of the contenders. Only the most talented need apply, leading to one of the classiest fields of any three-year-old event in the world, as the best runners and riders gather in Surrey, all bidding for a place in the history books and the not inconsiderable sum of £1.6 million (2022) in total prize money.
Whilst officially open to three-year-old colts and fillies, it is exceedingly rare for a filly to tackle this rather than The Oaks, which is run over the same course and distance.
Epsom Derby 2023: Runners & Riders
- Adelaide River – Seamie Heffernan
- Arrest – Frankie Dettori
- Artistic Star – Rob Hornby
- Auguste Rodin – Ryan Moore
- Dear My Friend – Andrea Atzeni
- Dubai Mile – Daniel Muscutt
- King of Steel – Kevin Stott
- Military Order – William Buick
- Passenger – Richard Kingscote
- San Antonio – Wayne Lordan
- Sprewell – Shane Foley
- The Foxes – Oisin Murphy
- Waipiro – Tom Marquand
- White Birch – Colin Keane
The Ups and Downs of Epsom
Located in the North Downs of Surrey, Epsom Downs racecourse is amongst the most distinctive in the land. Following a horseshoe-like “U” configuration, this flat-only venue features two long straight sections, a sweeping turn out of the back straight, and a sharper bend as the runners turn for home. It is, however, the pronounced undulations which are the track’s most famous feature.
Having left the Derby starting gates, the field must initially climb steeply throughout the backstretch, before the track begins to descend by an ever-increasing gradient around Tattenham Corner and into the home straight. The final stretch of three and a half furlongs initially continues downhill before rising slowly but surely to the line and cambering towards the far rail throughout. It is with good reason that balance is deemed such an essential element of success.
Britain’s most illustrious flat race deserves a spectacular setting, and Epsom duly provides it. Those in attendance can expect some of the most impressive facilities that British racing has to offer, headlined by the beautiful Queen Elizabeth II Stand.
Held over two days, taking in the first Friday and Saturday of June each year, the Epsom Derby Festival is comfortably the biggest meeting at one of the most famous racecourses on the planet. The Derby course and distance takes centre stage throughout, with the Friday races of the Coronation Cup for the older horses and The Oaks for the fillies, both taking place on the famous 1m4f track.
It’s then all eyes on a field of the most regally bred colts from the most powerful yards in the sport, with the Derby acting as the headline act on a thrilling Saturday card. Chief support comes in the shape of the fast and furious Epsom Dash over the minimum five-furlong trip and the Group 3 duo of the Princess Elizabeth Stakes and the Diomed Stakes.
An Unrivalled Roll of Honour
As Britain’s most famous flat contest, it is no surprise that the Derby roll of honour is peppered with a selection of the most recognisable names in the sport. Mill Reef, Nijinsky, Shergar, Nashwan, Galileo, High Chaparral, Sea The Stars, and Golden Horn all etched their names into racing legend, and all displayed their brilliance with success on the Epsom stage.
Aidan the Derby King ably Assisted by Galileo
The 21st century has witnessed the most dominant era in the rich history of this race, with Irish Champion Trainer Aidan O’Brien compiling an incredible record in the event. From his Ballydoyle base in County Tipperary, O’Brien sent out a record-setting nine Derby winners between 2001 and 2023.
O’Brien’s chief partner in crime during this incredible spree was the Sadler’s Wells colt Galileo. Winning the race himself in 2001, Galileo then sired subsequent O’Brien-trained winners Ruler of the World (2013), Australia (2014), Anthony Van Dyck (2019) and Serpentine (2020). Not done there, Galileo’s son New Approach (2008) scored for Jim Bolger in 2008.
Also sitting on nine wins, having accompanied the likes of Sir Ivor, Nijinsky, Roberto, and The Minstrel to glory, is the late great Lester Piggott, who, as of 2023, is out on his own as the most successful rider in the history of the race.