Epsom Derby Through The Decades - Time & Leisure

The Epsom Derby through the decades

Known as one of the greatest flat races in the world, we take a look at the fascinating history of the Epsom Derby


psom’s race days can be traced way back to the 1640s but the actual Derby was first raced in 1780. Legend has it that the name was decided over the flip of a coin when the 12th Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, a guest at Lord Derby’s house, spun a coin as to whether to call a particular race the Derby Stakes or the Bunbury Stakes.

Decades later and the event has firmly established itself as a key date in the spring calendar with keen racing enthusiasts converging on the ground much the same as the aristocracy and workmen would in the late 18th century.

A place of protest 

One of the most legendary events to take place at the Derby was the protestations of Emily Davison at the 1913 Derby, who ran out onto the course at Tattenham Corner with the aim of pinning the Suffragist ribbon onto the king’s horse as it turned the corner. The event has come to signify the plight of women at the turn of the century and the desperate desire to get the vote for the female gender. Emily Davison went on to be a martyr for the cause and her legacy is strongly remembered at Epsom to this day.

epsom derby

Famous names

Throughout the long history at Epsom, many horses came to our attention. Sea-Bird (1965) would be named by many as the ultimate winner of the 20th century, under Australian jockey Pat Glennon. Sea-Bird went on to win a strong Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe by six lengths. Many would also remember Nijinsky (1970) who won the Triple Crown. Another famous name, Shergar was the winner of the 1981 Derby who was kidnapped during the height of The Troubles from his home in Ireland by an armed IRA gang. The horse became a subject of a £2 million ransom but was tragically killed. Other names include Sea The Stars (2009), who completed a run of six straight Group 1 wins aged just three.

Wartime Epsom

During the First World War, Epsom Racecourse provided a place for hospitals in the grandstands and a military encampment on the Downs. In 1915, Lord Kitchener inspected some 20,000 volunteers on the Downs, before they marched off to the Western Front. During World War II, the racecourse was damaged by bombing.

Epsom Derby fact-file

  • Where: Epsom Downs Racecourse
  • When: 1 June 2019 (Ladies’ Day 31 May)
  • First race: 4 May 1780
  • Race type: flat / thoroughbred
  • Last year’s winner: Masar, ridden by
  • William Buick at odds 16/1
  • Distance run: One mile, four furlongs and six yards
  • Record time: Workforce holds the record for the fastest winning time of two minutes
  • 31 seconds in 2010
  • First broadcast: 1927
  • Most runners: 34 in 1862
  • Fillies (young female horses) to have won: Six