The Derby - A Beginner's Guide

Features | 1st June 2022

The Derby is the most famous Flat horserace in the world

An Earl, A Lot of Money and A Special Track

The historic prize – which dates as far back as 1780 – has been copied by virtually every major racing nation. 

The original takes place at Epsom Racecourse on the first Saturday in June every year. It takes its name from the 12th Earl Of Derby. He hosted a party to celebrate the creation of the Epsom Classics and his guests decided he should be honoured with the race title. 

There is £1.5million in prizemoney up for grabs this year and it attracts the very best horses from Britain, Ireland and often France. 

The Derby is restricted to three‐year‐olds and it is the most prestigious of the five Classic races. It has been held at Epsom since its inception and the unique track provides a daunting test for relatively young horses. The mile‐and‐a‐half long course starts with a steep uphill climb before the horses start to bear left as they take a turning descent into the home straight. 

The downhill bend, known as Tattenham Corner, is almost as famous as the race itself. It has been the downfall of many top thoroughbred horses and the long home straight offers another test as the camber drops away to the far‐side of the track.


The Queen attending The Derby in 2017

Royal Connections

The day before the Derby, over the same course and distance, the Oaks is held. Another of the British Classic races, it is restricted to three‐year‐old fillies (female horses). 

The Queen has a long association with the Derby. Along with other members of The Royal Family, she is often in attendance. It is the only one of the five Classic races she hasn’t won as an owner. The Queen’s Dunfermline won the Oaks in 1977, which was the year of her Silver Jubilee, with winning jockey Willie Carson wearing her famous racing colours. 

This year, the Derby will form part of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations. 

Sadly, The Queen’s star horse Reach For The Moon won’t be in the field but he could race at Royal Ascot later in the month. The favourite for this year’s race is unbeaten Desert Crown. He is trained by Sir Michael Stoute, who has won the Derby five times. 

The best of those was Shergar…

Shergar coasting home in the 1981 Derby

An Historic Crime, Records and Incredible Sporting Views

His 10‐length victory in 1981 is still a record winning distance but he is more famous for what happened to him two years later when he was stolen from Ballymany Stud in Ireland. The thieves demanded a £2million ransom for his safe return. It was not paid and mystery still surrounds what happened to Shergar. 

Aidan O’Brien is the most successful Derby trainer with eight victories. He could send as many as five horses over from his stables in County Tipperary, Ireland to run in this year’s race. 

Lester Piggott, who sadly died at the weekend, holds the riding honours with a record nine Derby winners. 

Thousands of racing fans flock to Epsom to watch the Derby. Many men still dress in the traditional morning coat and top hat with ladies in their Royal Ascot finery. 

The enclosure on the inside of the course, known as The Hill, is extremely popular. Some of the best views of the race are enjoyed by day trippers on the open top buses that line the finishing straight. 

The Derby is not just one of the world’s greatest horse races, it is one of the most popular social sporting occasions of the British summer