The Derby and The Oaks are two of Britain’s oldest and most popular races. They take place at Epsom racecourse, which also just so happens to be one of the most iconic racecourses in Britain. In fact, The Derby is the richest race in the UK, signalling just how important it is to British horseracing.
The two races are featured over two days of top class racing at Epsom. They pull in huge crowds across both days (reduced to a single day’s racing in 2020) and with it the racecourse is able to function financially pretty much all year round.
Epsom Derby Festival Major Races
The first weekend in June means Derby Day at Epsom, arguably Britain’s most prestigious flat race. This one-day meeting hosts two Classics, The Derby and The Oaks.
There is also a further Group 1 contest, the Coronation Cup which is run on Friday. Saturday’s Epsom Dash is a hugely competitive five furlong sprint.
The Epsom Downs Course
The racecourse at Epsom is only open from April through to October and takes advantage of the summer flat season. It measures just 1m 4f 10 yards in length, but has been designed and tailored to produce a really tough test for the horse that do take part. It’s worth noting that both The Derby and The Oaks are both run from the longest part of the track, with each race being measured as 1m 4f 10 yards in length.
The track is a left-handed course, which makes it a little tougher for most horses as the majority will be used to more traditional right handed tracks. The U-shaped course (Tattenham corner) means that the tight bend acts as a bit of s slingshot and definitely favours horses that are running prominently, rather than those labouring at the back. Interestingly, the last 5 furlongs are downhill and when set up as just a 5f course, it’s widely regarded as the fastest in the world.
But, the added speed does add its challenges for the horse as running downhill can actually hinder them due to the fact that it means it’s possible the horses could miss a stride. But, as both the Derby and the Oaks take advantage of the full course, the first 4 furlongs are actually all uphill and provide a very tough test in terms of stamina, especially when the ground is soft. Many races in the past have been decided over these first 4 furlongs, such is the severity of them.
The better ground is often found on the stand side and whilst the length of the race means that the draw isn’t really a factor, it will mean that horses will need to get into positon quickly if they are looking to challenge come the back straight.
The Oaks & Oaks Day
The Oaks is run on the Friday of the 2-day meeting and is seen as the warm up for the Derby the following day. But, the race has massive significance in the horse racing industry and is one of the most high-profile races for 3-year-old fillies anywhere in the world.
The Oaks is third of the five classics, running after the Guineas. A massive race on its own, it’s also stepping stone for horses that have taken on the 1,000 Guineas with the St Leger to follow later in the year. The three races together are known as the Fillies Triple Crown.
The prizemoney for the race sits at £375,000 (2021), with first place being awarded £212,662 of the total purse.
Whilst the Oaks is undoubtedly the highlight of the opening day of the mini-festival, it also hosts another Group 1 race in the form of the Coronation Cup. This race has become another massive race in the UK horse racing calendar, offering up a prize pool of £315,000. The race includes horses aged 4-years and up and often features horses that have competed in the Derby or the Oaks in previous years. There is also the listed Surrey Stakes amongst five other top races.
Full Oaks Day Schedule – 4th June 2021
|Time||Race Name||Grade||Distance||Prize Fund|
|2:00||Woodcote EBF Stakes||Class 2||6 furlongs||£45,000|
|2:35||Ebbisham Handicap Stakes||Class 2||1 mile, 1⁄2 furlong||£37,500|
|3:10||Coronation Cup||Group 1||1 mile, 4 furlongs||£315,000|
|3:45||Cazoo Handicap Stakes||Class 2||1 mile, 2 furlongs||£47,500|
|4:30||The Oaks||Group 1||1 mile, 4 furlongs||£375,000|
|5:10||Surrey Stakes||Listed||7 furlongs||£40,000|
|5:40||Derby Festival Handicap||Class 2||7 furlongs||£37,500|
The Derby & Derby Day
Whilst many people would say that the Oaks and the Derby are on an equal level when it comes to the prestige of each race, in reality, the Derby has to be the bigger of the two. The fact that the prizemoney from this race is £1,125,000 in 2021, making it the biggest purse of any race in the UK highlights this fact. The winner of the race picked up a cheque worth £637,987. Not too shabby for a few minutes work.
The Derby is held on the Saturday and is one of the most watched races in the world. The race has been running since 1780 and with it has been able to attract huge crowds to Epsom Downs racecourse as a result. The race is open to 3-year-old fillies, thoroughbred and colts, meaning it attracts a host of the world’s best flat racing horses.
Just the like the Oaks, the Derby is part of its own Triple crown including the 2,000 Guineas and the St Leger. It’s also one of the 5 classics that takes place in Britain.
The Saturday, or Derby Day as it’s often referred to, is dominated by the big race itself. There are six other races though including the Group 3 contests, the Princess Elizabeth Stakes and the Diomed Stakes. There’s also the popular Epsom Dash, a large field handicap over the minimum 5 furlong trip.
Full Derby Day Schedule – 5th June 2021
|Time||Race Name||Grade||Distance||Prize Fund|
|2:00||Cazoo Handicap||Class 2||1 mile, 2 furlongs||£37,500|
|2:35||Princess Elizabeth Stakes||Group 3||1 mile, 1⁄2 furlong||£65,000|
|3:10||Diomed Stakes||Group 3||1 mile, 1⁄2 furlong||£65,00|
|3:45||Epsom Dash Handicap||Class 2||5 furlongs||£75,000|
|4:30||The Derby||Group 1||1 mile, 4 furlongs||£1,125,000|
|5:15||Northern Dancer Handicap||Class 2||1 mile, 4 furlongs||£37,500|
|5:50||Epsom Welcomes Cazoo Handicap||Class 2||6 furlongs||£37,500|
Derby Day Schedule in 2020
In 2020, the Derby and Oaks were held on the same day for the first time. As a result of the suspension of racing in the UK during March, April and May, the Derby Festival was cancelled and replaced by a single raceday including the two classics, the Woodcote Stakes, the Surrey Stakes, the Princess Elizabeth Stakes, the Investec Handicap and the Zebra Handicap.
The Coronation Cup was run on its original June date but during the Guineas meeting. The Epsom Dash was not contested in 2020.
Epsom Derby Day 2020 Schedule
|1:50pm||Sat 4th July||Woodcote Stakes||£20,000|
|2:25pm||Sat 4th July||Surrey Stakes||£25,500|
|3:00pm||Sat 4th July||Investec Handicap||£25,000|
|3:40pm||Sat 4th July||Epsom Oaks||£250,000|
|4:15pm||Sat 4th July||Princess Elizabeth Stakes||£40,700|
|4:55pm||Sat 4th July||Epsom Derby||£500,000|
|5:35pm||Sat 4th July||Zebra Handicap||£15,000|
With both the Derby and Oaks having been run for over 200 years there’s plenty of information and records that have been produced. Below we look at who the most successful trainers and jockeys have been, as well as the quickest ever runnings of these prestigious races.
There is one jockey who has dominated the Derby like no other over the years and this man comes in the form of the great, Lester Piggott. Piggott went on to win no fewer than 9 Derby’s, with his first in 1954 on Never Say Die and his last in 1983 on Teenoso.
The trainer stakes and much more even, with 4 trainers being tied at the top with 7 wins a piece. These are Aidan O’Brien, Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling. The quartet unfortunately never really raced in the same era as each other, so it’s tough to say which is the best from the four, with each having some of the most famous horses of their own generation.
In more recent times it’s been Aidan O’Brien has been the standout trainer, winning 5 out the last 8 Derby’s since 2012. The jockey stakes have been pretty spread out, but do include the likes of Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore, Martin Dwyer and Kieren Fallon, to name just a few.
Most Successful Epsom Derby Trainers and Jockeys
|Name||Wins||First – Last||Name||Wins||First – Last|
|Fred Darling||7||1922 – 1941||Lester Piggott||9||1954 – 1983|
|John Porter||7||1868 – 1899||Steve Donoghue||6||1915 – 1925|
|Robert Robson||7||1793 – 1823||Jem Robinson||6||1817 – 1836|
|Aidan O’Brien||7||2001 – 2019||Fred Archer||5||1877 – 1886|
|Vincent O’Brien||6||1962 – 1982||Bill Clift||5||1793 – 1819|
|Mathew Dawson||6||1860 – 1895||Frank Buckle||5||1792 – 1823|
|Frank Neale||6||1782 – 1804||John Arnull||5||1784 – 1807|
|Sir Michael Stoute||5||1981 – 2010||Willie Carson||4||1979 – 1994|
|John Scott||5||1835 – 1853||Charles Smirke||4||1934 – 1958|
|James Edwards||5||1811 – 1836||John Watts||4||1887 – 1896|
|Dixon Boyce||5||1805 – 1828||Bill Scott||4||1832 – 1843|
|Richard Prince||5||1795 – 1819||Tom Goodison||4||1809 – 1822|
|Sam Arnull||4||1780 – 1798|
The fastest winning time in the Derby came about in 2010, when Workforce managed to complete the track in just 2m 31.33s. The widest winning margin was that of Shergar in 1981 and the fewest runners to have ever raced in the Derby was back in 1794, with just 4. The longest odds winners have been at 100/1 and have included Jeddah (1898) Signrinetta (1908) and Aboyeur (1913).
Fastest Recorded Epsom Derbys
|Workforce||2010||2 mins 31.33 secs||35.68 mph||Good to Firm|
|Lamtara||1995||2 mins 32.31 secs||35.45 mph||Good to Firm|
|Golden Horn||2015||2 mins 32.32 secs||35.45 mph||Good to Firm|
|Wings Of Eagles||2017||2 mins 33.02 secs||35.29 mph||Good|
|Galileo||2001||2 mins 33.27 secs||35.23 mph||Good to Firm|
|Kris Kin||2003||2 mins 33.35 secs||35.21 mph||Good|
|Australia||2014||2 mins 33.63 secs||35.15 mph||Good|
|North Light||2004||2 mins 33.72 secs||35.13 mph||Good|
|Mahmoud||1936||2 mins 33.80 secs||35.11 mph||Firm|
|Kahyasi||1988||2 mins 33.84 secs||35.10 mph||Good|
The leading jockey in the Oaks is that of Frank Buckle, we rode 9 winners from 1797 through to 1823. In more recent times jockeys who’ve seen the most success has been that of Frankie Dettori, Ryan Moore and Kieren Fallon. It’s worth noting that these are the same successful jockey’s that have rode in the Derby as well, often getting the top pick of the horses from that race.
In terms of trainers, Robert Robson has had the most wins with a staggering 13 victories between 1802 and 1825. You’ll notice that Robson is one of the most successful trainers of the Derby as well, making him a bit of legend around these parts. The likes of Henry Cecil, Aiden O’Brien and Saeed bin Suroor have all seen success in more recent times.
Most Successful Epsom Oaks Trainers and Jockeys
|Name||Wins||First – Last||Name||Wins||First – Last|
|Robert Robson||13||1802 – 1825||Frank Buckle||9||1797 – 1823|
|Henry Cecil||8||1985 – 2007||Lester Piggott||6||1957 – 1984|
|Alec Taylor Jnr||8||1910 – 1926||Frank Butler||6||1843 – 1852|
|John Scott||8||1836 – 1863||George Fordham||5||1859 – 1881|
|John Pratt||7||1781 – 1799||John Barnham Day||5||1828 – 1840|
|Aidan O’Brien||7||1998 – 2018||Sam Chifney Jnr||5||1807 – 1825|
|Frank Butters||6||1927 – 1948||Frankie Dettori||5||1994 – 2019|
|Noel Murless||5||1957 – 1973||Keiren Fallon||4||1997 – 2006|
|Mathew Dawson||5||1853 – 1891||Willie Carson||4||1977 – 1990|
|Charles Morton||4||1903 – 1914||Harry Wragg||4||1938 – 1946|
|Dixon Boyce||4||1806 – 1817||Joe Childs||4||1912 – 1921|
|Frank Neale||4||1788 – 1800||John Watts||4||1883 – 1893|
|Fred Archer||4||1875 – 1885|
|Tom Cannon Snr||4||1869 – 1884|
|Dennis Fitzpatrick||4||1787 – 1800|
|Sam Chifney||4||1782 – 1790|
The fastest winning time in the Oaks came just last year in 2017 when Enable ran the race of their life winning in just 2m 34.13s. The longest odds winners have come at a hefty 50/1 and included both Sun Princess in 1833 and more recently, Jet Ski Lady in 1991.
Fastest Recorded Epsom Oaks
|Enable||2017||2 mins 34.13 secs||35.04 mph||Good|
|Intrepidity||1993||2 mins 34.19 secs||35.02 mph||Good to Firm|
|Time Charter||1982||2 mins 34.21 secs||35.02 mph||N/A|
|Snow Bride||1989||2 mins 34.22 secs||35.01 mph||Good to Firm|
|Bireme||1980||2 mins 34.33 secs||34.99 mph||N/A|
|Beam||1927||2 mins 34.60 secs||34.93 mph||N/A|
|Taghrooda||2014||2 mins 34.89 secs||34.86 mph||Good|
|Diminuendo||1988||2 mins 35.02 secs||34.83 mph||Good to Firm|
|Light Brocade||1934||2 mins 35.20 secs||34.79 mph||N/A|
|Pawneese||1976||2 mins 35.25 secs||34.78 mph||N/A|
The Oaks actually came about 1 year before the Derby in 1779, making them both two of the oldest races in the history of British horse racing. The Oaks is actually named after a local estate, located not far from the Epsom racetrack and was leased to the 12thEarl of derby in the 18thcentury. It was actually after a party that was hosted but the Earl of Derby that he and his friends devised the race to be run at the nearby racecourse.
In fact, it was Lord Derby himself who trained the inaugural winner, Bridget, which probably won’t come as a huge surprise since it was his idea to start with. Over the years the Oaks has seen some of the best fillies go on to win the race and in turn is widely regarded as an integral part of the Fillies Triple Crown.
The Derby came about just a year later and was designed as a celebration to the success of the Oaks. Whilst the Oaks was named after a local estate, it was decided that the Derby would be named after one of the names who were the driving force behind the race. Later, it was discovered that the name had actually been derived by Lord Derby himself, which is fair enough, and has since been known as the Derby.
The first winner of the Derby was that of Diomed, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury. The initial race was actually run over a 1m track, but later was extended in 1784 to 1 ½m, roughly what they still race today. In fact, the races starting point had actually shifted twice over the years, once in 1848 and then again in 1872.
The Derby has actually been run at several different times of the year as well. Initially it was run in late May or early June and held on a Wednesday to fit in with railway timetables. It became more established in the 20th century switching to the first Wednesday in June from 1900 to 1995. The switch in 1995 to a Saturday was in order to cater for more people to see this now iconic race and it’s been set here ever since.
The Derby is part of the Thoroughbred Triple Crown, which includes the 2,000 Guineas and the St Leger Stakes as well. There have only ever been 15 winners of the Triple Crown over the last 150+ years, with the latest being that of the great Nijinsky, ridden by none other than Lester Piggott in 1970.
Lester Piggott is one of the most celebrated jockeys to have ever ridden a horse. He has a staggering 4,493 career wins to his name and is the most successful flat jockey in Britain of all time. He was famed for having his own unique style at the peak of his powers, which ironically is now taught to most up and coming jockeys and copied by a plethora of modern greats as well.
The Derby has always been a high point in Piggott’s career and he holds the record for most wins by a jockey with 9 in total. What’s most impressive about his 9 wins is that they came over an illustrious 30 year love affair with the Derby, starting with his first winner in 1954 on Never Say die and finishing on Teenoso in 1983.
But, Piggott was a colourful character and after retiring for the first time in 1985 to become a trainer, he got caught up in tax evasion, later being jailed for 366 days. Upon his release he needed to make money and the easiest way he knew how was riding, so was back racing by the 1990 flat season. Piggott highlighted his class in the saddle upon his return winning the 1992 2,000 Guineas and Breeders Cup Mile. His last ride came in the November Handicap in 1994 in the UK, but did make some races aboard, before finally retiring for good in 1995.
Shergar is one of the best horses to have raced in the Derby. Period. The horse wont the Derby in 1981, but it wasn’t just the fact he won, it was the manner. Shergar obliterated the field and won by a massive ten lengths and feat that has never been beaten or even come close to since.
The horse was born in Ireland and trained in Great Britain, owned by Aga Khan and trained by the legendary Sir Michael Stoute. Not only did he win the Derby, but also went to win the Guardian Classic Trail, Chester Vase, Irish Derby and the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, all in 1981. He reached a peak Timeform rating of 140 and has a race named after him (Shergar Cup) at Royal Ascot.
But, controversy surrounding the horse in that he was stolen by masked gunmen in 1983 and has never been seen since. The case technically hasn’t been closed as no one has been prosecuted as a result, but one of the most intriguing conspiracy theories is that the IRA stole the horse to sell on and fund for weapons.
Aiden O’Brien will go down as one of the greatest trainers to have ever lived. He has won pretty much everything that you can as a Group 1 trainer and most on multiple occasions as well. What’s been impressive to see about O’Brien is that he hasn’t just had success in Ireland and Great Britain, but around the world including the UAE, United States, Hong Kong, Italy, France, Canada and Australia.
Both the Derby and the Oaks have been successful hunting grounds for O’Brien and his probably the most successful trainer of the modern era, with 14 wins across the two. It was his three consecutive wins in the Derby that O’Brien will be best known for, winning in 2012, 2013 and 2014 on Camelot, Ruler of the World and Australia.
2017 will probably have been the trainers most surprising win with Wings Of Eagles winning from a 40/1 starting price, one of the largest in Derby history. The horse had managed to fight off both the 7/2 favourite Cracksman ridden by Frankie Dettori and O’Brien’s very own Cliffs Of Moher, priced at just 5/1.
In 2017, we saw what could be the making of one of the best fillies to have lived. It’s a very bold statement, but the form that Enable has shown winning the Epsom Oaks was mightily impressive.
What was probably most impressive has been Enable’s ability to follow that through in her three year old season, picking up wins at the Cheshire Oaks, Irish Oaks, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Yorkshire Oaks and finally the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe that have really made punters and pundits take note.
Enabled followed this up as a four year old in 2018 winning a second successive Arc before taking the Breeders’ Cup Turf over in the United States.
The horse is owned by Khalid Abullah and is trained by John Gosden at Newmarket. Her record over 2017 and 2018 has been pretty much unflappable and it will be very interesting to see just how long she will continue to race.