The Derby Stakes, also known colloquially as the Derby and internationally as the Epsom Derby, is viewed as one of the most prominent flat thoroughbred horse races in the world. It is one of the five classic British races and is the second leg of the English Triple Crown. The event, which is two days long, is held every year in June at the Epsom Downs Racecourse in Epsom, Surrey. Today Derby Day, which is the second day, is only attended by colts but traditionally started as a Group 1 race for colts and fillies.
The first day is Ladies’ Day, when the Oaks and Coronation Cup races, which are for fillies and older horses, are held. Most competitors will prepare for the meeting by running in one or more of the recognised Derby Trials. The Derby is also a highlight of the social calendar, with who attends and what they are wearing, being reported as much as the racing results. The Queen is always a visitor at this annual event, and her horses have often been entered into the racing.
The Epsom Derby is one of the oldest race meetings in existence, with the first one recorded to have taken place in 1661. However, the event as it is known today actually originated as a result of the first running of the Epsom Oaks in 1779. Edward Stanley-Smith, the 12th Earl of Derby, and Sir Charles Bunbury flipped a coin to decide who would have the race named after him. Although Sir Charles lost the toss, his horse, Diomed, won the foundational running the following year.
The Epsom Derby is also famous for being the event during which the suffragette Emily Davidson, in 1913, threw herself in front of King George V’s horse, an episode which has greatly marked history. Initially it was held on the first Wednesday of June every year, with the business folk of London being the main attendees. Now the Epsom Derby has been moved to the first Saturday in June every year.
In 1927 the popularity of the Derby Stakes greatly increased when it was broadcast by the BBC for the first time. To this day, the events of the Epsom Derby are broadcast across the globe, and many avid fans tune in to catch up on the events. The event today is now sponsored by Vodafone, who have ensured that it has remained one of the most popular racing events in the world.
Races at the Derby Stakes are run over a distance of one mile and six furlongs, making it a relatively short course. It is the shape of a horseshoe and is run in a left-hand direction. The colts are all three years old, and are set a weight of nine stone. There are fourteen races at the Derby meeting, seven being held on each day. On Ladies’ Day, the Oaks and the Coronation Cup are the two feature races. On Derby Day, the two feature races are The Derby and The Diomed Stakes.
Frankie Dettori has been the main highlight of the Epsom Derby in recent years, and the guarantee of him racing attracts many more visitors. Kieran Fallon is another racing personality who has featured greatly, and Michael Stoute has made his name as a trainer through racing horses at the Derby Stakes.
There are eight enclosures at the Derby racecourse. The Queen’s Stand is the most exclusive of the enclosures. It is positioned by the winning post and only Queen’s Stand members can enter this area; membership is available to buy at quite a cost.
The Grandstand is located next to the Queen’s Stand, and provides views of the paddock, the racing and the Downs. Tickets can be bought to enter the Grandstand, and the price changes each year.
The Tattenham Straight is the pedestrian area which has live music, and food and drink stalls.
The Tattenham Picnic area is located close to the Grandstand, and is equipped with picnic tables and catered by Carluccio’s who have many culinary delights. For details of their menu see The Epsom Website. Derby goers are allowed to bring their own food into this area, or food from other areas.
The Lonsdale is where buses and coaches can be parked for those who are bringing a big party. Parking areas need to be booked in advance, and these sell out pretty quickly.
The Walton area offers the opportunity to be near to the racing action, without having to fork out a considerable amount of money for it. Buses can also be brought into this area.
Upper Tattenham stretches from the pedestrian area to Tattenham Corner. It is a popular area for people to park and have their picnic in, before entering the festival.
The famous area, the Hill, is situated in the very centre of the racecourse, and is the hub of most activity due to it being free to enter. There are bookmakers and food and drink stalls here also. Details of the prices for each of the areas are released in the autumn before the event, and these are displayed on The Epsom Derby Website.
Tickets are available from the autumn before the Derby Stakes. Children under the age of 16 are allowed to enter the Grandstand for free, but for the Queen’s Stand this age is reduced to 9. Children entering the Queen’s Stand also need to become junior members for the day, and all children must be accompanied by a paying adult. The Diamond Club is open for those aged 60 and over, and gives a £5 discount on all tickets but a one-off £10 charge is required.