The Epsom Derby

The first recorded race took place on the Epsom Downs in 1661.


An engraving by I N Sartorius 1791

Courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

In 1780 Lord Derby and his friend Sir Charles Bunbury supposedly flipped a coin to decide the title of a new race. Lord Derby had the race named after him, but Sir Charles’ horse, Diomed, won the first race, run over 1 mile.

The Derby is open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies. Derby winners have been owned by Kings, Dukes, Indian Princes, and a Prime Minister.

The first French Colt winner was hailed as the Avenger of Waterloo. The first American-bred winner brought business on Wall Street to a halt. In the 19th century, the race became one of the highlights of the English social and sporting calendar. It was requested that parliament close to allow members to attend.

The winner now receives over a million pounds.

The Derby is an important traditional meeting place for the Gypsy community. In 1937 when Gypsies did not have a place to camp, Lady Sybil Grant provided them with a large field. The Conservators now manage the land and it is set aside every year for the traditional Gypsy gathering 2 weeks before the Derby until a week afterwards.

The Derby course is now 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards.

Epsom Racing Firsts


The Oaks Stakes first run, organised by Edward Smith Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby.


The first Epsom Derby.


The fewest ever runners take part in The Derby with just four horses lining up.


A horse with no name owned by The Duke of Bedford wins The Derby.


After a Dead Heat between Cadland and the Colonel, Cadland won the runoff by half a length.


Running Rein wins The Derby but is later exposed as a four year old colt called Maccabeus. The race was later awarded to the second placed Orlando.


The most ever runners take part in The Derby when 34 horses lined up.


Iroquois ridden by Fred Archer becomes the first American owned and bred Derby winner.


St Gatien and Harvester record the first ever Dead Heat in The Derby.


Lester Piggott, aged 18 yrs, won the first his nine Derby winners aboard the 33/1 Never Say Die.


The Aga Khan’s Shergar wins The Derby spectacularly and records the largest ever winning margin of 10 Lengths.


Frankie Dettori won The Derby on Authorised after 14 previous unsuccessful attempts.


Workforce beat the course record, winning in 2 minutes 31.33 seconds

Useful Links


The story of the 1913 Derby and suffragette actions of Emily Wilding Davison

Bourne Hall Museum

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