Regarded as the richest and most prestigious race in British horse racing, the Epsom Derby has a long rich history. Taking place in June at Epsom racecourse, the event is run over a distance of one and a half miles with prize money totaling over £1.6million pounds and is open to three-year-olds
The race has always taken place at Epsom, with the exception of the war years. between 1915-18 and 1940-45 the race was relocated to Newmarket, those races were known as the New Derby.
Similar versions of the Derby take place all over the world. In Italy, they have the Derby Italiano, the Germans have the Deutsches Derby, The Irish Derby, and the Prix du Jockey Club, better known to British racegoers as the French Derby.
Most Successful Horse
With the race being restricted to three-year-olds, it’s only possible to ever win the race once, but that aside, there are horses that have mesmerized us over the years in this most illustrious race.
The first-ever winner of the Epsom Derby was Diomed in 1780, ridden by Sam Arnull and trained by R.Teasdale. French colt Sea-Bird won the race in 1965 with apparent ease. The horse, which was barely off the bridle barring the last few yards, beat French horse Meadow Court. The horse was also the holder of the highest Timeform rating in history up until 2012.
Producing a late run saw Nijinsky take the honors in 1970 under the jockeyship of Lester Piggot. The horse, bred in Canada and named after a Russian ballet dancer, was the last horse to complete the triple crown, consisting of the 2000 Guineas, St Ledger and the Epsom Derby. A fete unlikely to be achieved again, as it’s rarely attempted these days.
Narrowly beaten in the 2000 Guineas Mill Reef made up for it in the Epsom Derby in 1971. Small in stature, his blistering pace, sheer strength, and determination saw the Ian Balding-trained horse pull away to win by two lengths under jockey Geoff Lewis.
Another horse only just beaten in the 2000 Guineas and compensated by winning the Epsom Derby, was Grundy. Trained by Peter Walwyn and ridden by the late Pat Eddery, Grundy left his rivals in his wake and swept to victory, winning by three lengths from Nobiliary in second.
Shergar won the race in 1981 and is a name that is broadly known outside of racing as well as in, sadly. The holder of the record for the widest margin by a winner of the Deby, winning in style by ten lengths from Glint of Gold. Ridden by Walter Swinburn and trained by Michael Stoute, the horse later became the subject of one of Britain’s greatest sporting mysteries when he was kidnapped in 1983 by the IRA. The kidnapping went wrong and was sadly killed and buried.
No other jockey in history loved being in the winners’ enclosure on Derby Day than Lester Piggot. With nine triumphs spanning almost thirty years, he is top dog when it comes to the most successful Epsom Derby jockey. Lesters’ first win on the Joseph Lawson trained horse, Never Say Die, came in 1954. He only had to wait another three years before notching up his second Derby winner, on Crepello, the Noel Murless trained horse.
St Paddy in 1960 and Sir Ivor in 1968, was followed by victory on the magnificent Nijinsky in 1970. Roberto in 1972, trained by Vincent O’Brien was followed by two consecutive wins on the Maurice Zilber trained Empery in 1976, and the Minstrel, trained by Vincent O’Brien in 1977. His final winner came in 1983 when winning on Geoff Wragg’s horse, Teeneso.
Four trainers share a record of seven wins each in the Epsom Derby. Robert Robson accumulated his victories between 1793-1823. John Porter gained his wins over twenty years between 1868-1899, while Fred Darlings’ triumphs were achieved from 1922 to 1941.
With his seven victories, Aiden O’Brien holds the modern-day record. His first Epsom Derby winner came in 2001 with Galileo, ridden by Michael Kinane. This was followed up a year later with Irish horse High Chaparral. Aiden O’Brien made the race his own over the next three years, winning with Camelot in 2012, Ruler of the World in 2013 and Australia in 2014.
Wings of Eagles in 2017 and Anthony Van Dyck in 2019 completed his sen wins.