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The greatest Epsom Derby races

February 27, 2018

The History of the Epsom Derby

There are many great sporting events and horse racing festivals in the United Kingdom and around the world, but the glory of the Investec Epsom Derby Festival is that it has been going much longer than just about any other major horse racing event.

Whilst the 19th century saw the advent of the FA Cup, Test match cricket and the revival of the Olympic games, the first Epsom Derby took place even further back in 1780 and is steeped in history and other interesting facts.

Indeed, the horse race that precedes the Derby, was the Oaks, which was run at Epsom Downs in 1779 and experienced such success that it prompted the 12th Earl of Derby and Jockey Club bigwig Sir Charles Bunbury decided to organise the first ever Epsom Derby race. The Earl, who had already named the Oaks after his house, is rumoured to have won a toss of a coin over the naming of the new race.

Famous Epsom Derby Races

The Epsom Derby, a race that is invariably a thriller, has featured some of the finest horses that trainers and breeders have ever put on a racecourse. However, there have been one or two notorious races at the Epsom Derby; including in 1913 when suffragette Emily Davidson Davison was killed after running onto the course in protest and being hit by the King's horse, Anmer. Another famous Epsom race was the Epsom Derby of 1844, where the original 'winner' Running Rein was disqualified after it turned out he was actually an ineligible four-year old called Maccabeus.

For the most part, however, Epsom Derby history is a treasure trove of magnificent spectacles and tight finishes, where come-from-behind surges and compelling back stories have dominated the history of one of the oldest major races. Indeed, some of the greatest wins have come when outsiders have triumphed against the odds, with 2017’s 40/1 outsider Wing of Eagles being a case in point.

However, for many people, the greatest Epsom Derby race of all came in 1970, when Lester Piggott rode Nijinsky to victory. With just two furlongs of the famous Epsom racecourse to go, he was in fourth in a tight cluster at the front, with Great Wall just ahead. Then Gyr hit the front, with Stitino looming in third.

It was through this group that Nijinsky surged with an astonishing burst of pace, leaving the other three trailing desperately as Piggott, like a driver who had suddenly found an extra gear and slammed his foot down, surged clear to pass the post.

Shergar's victory in 1981 was another famous race. So good had his form been in the lead-up to the race that he was only the third horse since the war to be an odds-on favourite for the Derby.

Sure enough, with a couple of furlongs to go, the horse demonstrated his full brilliance, surging clear and winning by ten lengths despite cantering over the line at the end, the widest recorded winning margin in the history of the race.

It was a remarkable sight for all at Epsom who saw it and made all the more poignant for the subsequent mysterious disappearance of the horse in Ireland two years later.

Workforce was another horse that broke records at the Epsom Derby Festival, winning in the fastest time on record in 2010, with the seven-lengths distance being the third largest ever. The 6/1 shot made the most of the firm ground and fast pace to turn in an extraordinary display of speed and energy.

These, of course, are just some of the great Epsom Derby races from down the years. Many people will have their own favourites. And, who knows, perhaps next year will bring a race to top them all?

Enjoy the Epsom Derby Yourself!

Whatever happens, this year's Investec Epsom Derby will represent a continuation of the richest of sporting histories and is always a spectacle that shouldn’t be missed. So why not experience the next famous race at Epsom for yourself, and enjoy premium horse racing hospitality at Epsom Racecourse and join Keith Prowse Hospitality for Official Derby Day Hospitality at the Investec Derby Festival.

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