A time-line through Epsom’s race days 1779-1830

A time-line through Epsom’s race days        1779-1830

In 1779, Epsom ran two race meetings, the first in mid-May and the second in late October.

The May Meeting was run over three days – two races on Wednesday, 12th – the first won by the Duke of Queensbury’s Slim, who won two of the three-mile heats. The second race, a match between Dennis O’Kelly’s Eclipse colt, Trimbush, and Mr Walker’s Scamp, was won by O’Kelly after agreeing the distance to be 980 yards.

Thursday had only one race – the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Plate for horses of five years and upwards, run in four-mile heats – the Duke of Queensbury’s 6-y-o mare, Rosalba by Herod winning both heats.

On Friday, 14th May, following the Ladies Plate won by Leapfrog, the inaugural Oaks was run over the last mile and a half of the old Orbicular course, and won by Lord Derby’s Bridget, from Mr Vernon’s Fame and ten others. The last race of the meeting, the Town Plate, was run in four-mile heats until one horse had won twice. Mr Stacie’s Toper took the prize after winning the third and fourth heat of a gruelling contest.

The three-day October Meeting opened on Tuesday, 26th with another Town Plate, this won in two heats by Mr Redfearne’s Hephestion by Marske. Also that afternoon, was a Sweepstake for Hunters carrying 12st, over four miles.

On Wednesday, a Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Subscription Plate for ten 4-y-o’s was run in three-three-mile heats, Mr Jenning’s colt, Standby, winning two.

Thursday’s sport was taken up with another Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Plate, this one for ten 3-y-o’s over two miles. Captain Bertie’s filly, America by Marske, starting at Evens, took the prize, winning two of the three heats.

 In 1780, Epsom continued to run two meetings, the first in early-May and the second in late October. The May Meeting opened on Wednesday, the 3rd, with two four-mile heats, won by Hephestion. Thursday the 4th, saw the inaugural Derby, run over the last mile of the old Orbicular or Cup Course and won by Sir Charles Bunbury’s Diomed.

Diomed – Winner of the first Derby in 1780, with jockey Sam Arnull

This was the first of two races, the second – the Noblemen and Gentleman’s Purse, run in three four-mile heats, was won by Major O’Kelly’s Eclipse colt, King Fergus, a future Champion Sire.

On Friday the 5th, the Oaks, won by Mr Douglas’s Tetotum, was the first of two races, but Saturday had only one, a Town Plate, won by Lord Milsintown’s grey mare, Tiffany by Eclipse, who won both four-mile heats from six rivals.

Epsom’s 1780, four–day October meeting, opened on Monday the 23rd, with a Hunters Sweepstake, both heats won by Mr Page’s colt by Matchem. Tuesday, featured a Town Plate, where Leapfrog beat the favourite Hephestion, in both four-mile heats; Wednesday had an 11-runner, 4-y-o Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Plate, won by Mr Dymock’s Alfred by Goldfinder, and on Thursday, a sweep for 3-y-o’s, run in three two-mile heats, was won by Sir John Lade’s Bishop Blaze.

In 1784, the Derby distance was increased to a mile and a half, so bringing it in line with the Oaks.


The Prince’s Stand, was originally built around 1784, and used by the Prince of Wales (later King George IV), for the royal party celebrations when the Prince won the Derby with Sir Thomas in 1788. Until 1829, it was the only permanent building on the Downs.

The Princes Stand – originally built circa 1784

In 1799, there was no October meeting, but the May fixture was extended to four days. However, Wednesday, 8th May, offered only a two-horse Sweepstakes over three miles, Thursday saw an 11-runner Derby, won by Archibald at 12-1. This was Sir Frank Standish’s third Derby winner, after Spread Eagle in 1795 and Didelot in 1796. The day concluded with a three-runner Sweepstakes over four miles.

Friday featured a four-runner-Oaks won by Lord Grosvenor’s Bellina. Grosvenor, a leading light on the Turf at the time, had previously owned three Derby winners, including the two brothers, Rhadamanthus(1790) and Daedalus (1794), and five Oaks winners, of which Bellina was his last.

The day continued with a 100-guinea one-mile match and closed with two two-mile heats for 3-y-o’s. Saturday’s opening race was the Woodcot Stakes (note the spelling), for 2-y-o colts and fillies over four furlongs. This was followed by a Sweepstakes for fillies (8st.) over a mile and a quarter, and won by Sir Charles Bunbury’s Pamela. The meeting concluded with a three-mile match, the winner, Mr Hay’s Midnight, conceding 2st, to the second.

For the record, this year’s even-money Derby favourite, Eagle, had yet to be named, and ran in the Derby as Brother to Spread Eagle. In the same way, the 1796 Derby favourite, Mr Teazle, had gone to post known as the Sir Peter colt. These two beaten favourites thereafter, fuelled a suspicion and prejudice against running unnamed candidates in the Derby.

 By 1830, single races were in vogue, the number of horses in training multiplied and fewer races were run in heats.

The previous year, Epsom opened the new Grandstand accommodating 5,000 spectators, including 2,000 standing on a terraced roof; the advertising proclaiming, “everyone can see the whole of the Derby Course.”

Epsom continued to run two meetings – four days in May and two days in October.

On Tuesday the 25th of May, The Colonel, 2-1 favourite, took the Craven Stakes, the first of five races, before a dead-heat in the Shirley Stakes with Stakes divided. On Wednesday, Merman won the two-mile Epsom Gold Cup, followed by a Partisan filly taking the Woodcote Stakes.

Thursday started with the Derby, the first of five races, where Priam, owned and trained by William Chifney, beat 22 rivals. Friday, also had five races, commencing with the Oaks, where Mr Scott Stonehewer’s, Variation beat 17 rivals, to win at 28-1.

Finally, in mid-October – Thursday the 14th, there were three races featuring the six-furlong, Epsom Stakes for two and three-year-olds, and on Friday, the Wellington Stakes, a handicap over the Derby Course, the first of four races.

This pattern continued to the mid-19th century when the Great Metropolitan Handicap (2 miles 2 furlongs) and the City and Suburban Handicap (1 mile 2 furlongs) injected new life into racing at Epsom, with betting on the double a major feature.

Following shortly — Epsom’s Race Days 1844-1886

For more racing history see Michael’s Books for Sale. 

To see Michael’s interviews go to the foot of About Michael


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