Racing has taken place at Epsom Racecourse since the early seventeenth century, but it wasn’t until 1778 that the Epsom we know today began to take shape. 1778 was the year the Earl of Derby invented The Oaks, with The Derby created the following year.
Epsom is considered to provide horses with Classic aspirations with the “ultimate test of a thoroughbred” as the course asks them to race uphill, downhill, and round a bend. They must then have the reserves of energy and balance to handle the camber in the home straight and the stiff final uphill furlong. However, despite its unique nature, Epsom has still produced some brilliant winners of both The Derby and The Oaks.
The two-day Derby Meeting in May/June remains Epsom’s major attraction, whilst the Spring Meeting in April also provides racegoers with some thrilling races at a meeting which many Classic hopefuls use to gain experience of this unique course before the Derby Meeting.
Below are some key facts about Epsom Racecourse.
Course Type: Flat
Current Owner: Jockey Club Racecourses
Epsom Racecourse is a u-shaped course, which means it is not a complete circuit. Therefore, the longest race run at Epsom is 1 mile 4 furlongs and 6 yards. Horses race left-handed, with the first four furlongs of the course from the Derby and Oaks starting point being uphill. The course then levels off around the bend before running downhill around Tattenham Corner and into the home straight. The last furlongs is a stiff uphill climb to the line, whilst the course naturally cambers towards the far rail.
The course also has a chute which allows races over five furlongs to be run on a straight course. Five-furlong races at Epsom are considered to be some of the fastest races in the world, and front runners are often favoured. A draw near the stands-rail is often considered to be an advantage in sprints and, when the ground rides soft or heavy, runners in longer races also often head towards the stands-rail in search of better ground.
Of all the courses that stage Group 1 Racing in England, Epsom is by far the most undulating test for a racehorse. Therefore, the big question is always will a horse handle these unique undulations. Jockeys say the most important attribute a horse can have, whether they’re big or small, is balance. Despite the questions that Epsom asks of a horse, the Derby and Oaks are still often won by the best colts and fillies of that year’s Classic generation.
Despite its high-standing in English Racing, racing only takes place at Epsom Racecourse on around 11 days a season. The first meeting takes place at the end of April, whilst the last meeting takes place at the end of September.
The season kicks-off with the Spring Meeting in April, where the Blue Riband Derby Trial usually features several Derby hopefuls. The 2017 winner Cracksman went closest to winning The Derby in recent times, when finishing third to Wings Of Eagles. Other major races at the Spring Meeting include the City and Surburban Handicap over 1 mile 2 furlongs and 17 yards and the Great Metropolitan Handicap over 1 mile 4 furlongs and 6 yards.
The two-day Derby Meeting is the main highlight though, and it features three Group 1 Races that are all run over 1 mile 4 furlongs and 6 yards. The first of those is The Oaks, a Classic for three-year-old fillies. High-class winners this century include Taghrooda, Minding, and Enable, all of whom went on to become multiple Group 1 winners.
The Coronation Cup also features on the same card as The Oaks on the Friday. This is a contest open to horse aged four and older though, surprisingly, not many Derby or Oaks winners have returned to add this race to their C.V. The race has still been won by some terrific horses in recent years though, including Postponed, Highland Reel, and Cracksman.
However, The Derby is the race that every jockey, trainer, and owner want to win. Not only does the race carry a terrific first prize, but winners also tend to go onto have very lucrative careers as stallions. The 2001 Derby winner Galileo is the epitome of that idea as he has since sired many Classic winners. Other recent notable winners of The Derby that have gone on to even greater success include Sea The Stars and Golden Horn.
The other major crowd-pleaser at The Derby Meeting is the Epson Dash, a sprint handicap over five furlongs that usually provides a pulsating spectacle that’s usually over in less than a minute. Caspian Prince is a name that will always be associated with the Epson Dash after notching up three wins in the race in 2014, 2016, and 2017.
The Derby Meeting in June is the event that most racegoers that visit Epsom Racecourse want to attend. So, if you’re going, the Jockey Club advises you to adhere to the dress code to avoid embarrassment.
Ladies with tickets to the Queen’s Stand on Derby Day must be smartly attires including a hat or fascinator, whilst men must wear a smart trousers, jacket, collar, and tie. Denim, sportswear, and trainers are not allowed. Children must also be smartly dressed.
However, if you have tickets for the Queen’s Stand on Derby Day, men must wear a morning dress (grey or black) and top hat. Ladies must wear a formal dress or trouser suit and hat, or a substantial fascinator. Children should be dressed smartly.
If attending either Oaks Day or Derby Day in the Grandstand Hospitality Areas, men are encouraged to wear a jacket, collar, and tie. Ladies are requested to wear a hat or fascinator, whilst children must be smartly dressed. Fancy dress is forbidden in the Duchess’s or Queen’s Stand during the big meeting.
If attending either day of the Derby Meeting in the Grandstand Enclosure, Racegoers are requested to dress up for the occasion. Guests wearing sportswear, ripped denim, trainers, or sleeveless vests may be refused admission.
The dress code is more relaxed for other meetings but racegoers are still urged to dress up rather than dress down. Smart casual is encouraged in the hospitality areas, whilst smart jeans and trainers are permitted in the open stands area.
The reason why The Derby is called The Derby apparently hinged on the toss of a coin between Sir Charles Bunbury and the 12th Earl of Derby. Obviously, the Earl of Derby won the toss, and The Derby has carried his name since the inaugural running of The Derby in 1779. Ironically, it was Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed that won the first ever running.
Address and Contact Details
Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom Downs, Surrey, KT18 5LQ
01372 726 311