Epsom Derby History

EPSOM, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 02: Racing Pundit John McCririck attends The Vodafone Derby Race run at Epsom Racecourse on June 2 2007, in Epsom, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)The Epsom Derby came into being with a coin toss in 1779. The coin was tossed by the Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury in order to decide the name of the race that would follow the day after the Epsom Oaks. Whoever won the toss would have his name preserved by the race for posterity.

As it turned out, the coin fell in the Earl of Derby’s favour and the following day saw the first running of one of England’s greatest races – the Epsom Derby. Sir Charles Bunbury found some consolation in the fact that his horse Diomed became the first ever winner of the Epsom Derby.

The original distance run at the Epsom Derby was 1 mile, and was retained for the first four years the race was run. Thereafter the distance was increased to 4 miles and 4 furlongs, before being extended to 4 miles 5 furlongs and 10 yards in 1991. The changes in distance run also saw the Epsom Derby change from a race over a straight mile and into a race featuring a turn at Tattenham Corner.

In 1915 the Epsom Derby was moved off the Epsom Downs racecourse and relocated to Newmarket where it was contested as the New Derby Stakes until 1918. In 1919 the race was returned to its Epsom Downs racecourse and has remained there ever since.

From the outset the Epsom Derby was a major hit with the English nobility, who converged on the racecourse once a year to watch their finest horses compete. As a result many of the winners of the Epsom Derby in its two hundred year history have belonged to earls, dukes, barons and princes. In the last two decades middle-eastern royal families have also made their mark on the event claiming nearly half of the race titles over this period.

The interest of the royal family and court in the Epsom Derby saw the event grow rapidly in status as it attracted large crowds and put on offer enormous prize funds. The race also attracted the world’s top thoroughbreds, and despite starting out as a race for both fillies and colts, came to be dominated by colts with the last filly winning in 1916.