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Everyman’s Derby Day Holiday

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Towards the end of the 18th century, Derby Day had established itself as not only a major sporting event, but also “The Everyman’s Derby Day Holiday”, with or without their employers’ consent. The Times summed it up in 1793,  when cynically reporting:

   “The road to Epsom was crowded with all descriptions of people hurrying to the races; some to plunder and some to be plundered. Horses, gigs, curricles, coaches, chaises, carts and pedestrians covered with dust crowded the Downs, the people running down and jostling each other as they met in contact. Hazard, cockfighting, E.O. and faro assisted in plucking the pigeons, and the rooks feathered their nests with the plunder.”

The fascination of Derby Day attracted the aristocracy and the workman equally, shoulder to shoulder for the day, and the flow of ready money proved a magnet to both while in pursuit of a good time. Various gambling games were played inside the sprawl of tents across the Downs. Hazard was the most popular dice game and the forerunner of the American Craps game; E.O.  (Even and Odd), was a simplistic, but often rigged form of roulette, while Faro was a card game where players would bet against the dealer on what cards he would turn up. The latter, popular in the wild west of America and in the early casinos, was later withdrawn due to the slim margin in favour of the House. Through all this, drunkenness was rife from morning until night.

Although the illegal bare-knuckle boxing matches were difficult to track down, they were extremely popular. The exact venue on the Downs, however, would be a closely guarded secret until just before the fight. One account from Bell’s Life in 1822 reported:  

“To gratify the plebeians and commoners, a subscription purse of £25 was collected for a fight between Dick Curtis and Cooper the Gypsy. It took place in the railed hollow where the plate horses saddle, and in the hurry to encircle the field of blood, hundreds of elegant females had a peep if they chose, as they were snugly wedged in…”

Research confirms that Curtis won the fight in about 30 minutes with much skill and science displayed by both boxers. For good measure another interesting fight took place that afternoon, although it was not reported until 1876, when Thomas Coleman’s “Recollections” were published in Baily’s Magazine.

   “After the races, there was a prize-fight between a Jew named Moses and another, both regular fighting men. They fought in the bottom, near the old two-mile post, and the Duke of York was there on a splendid brown cob – such a beauty! About 15 hands high, clean shaped, and such power, with a beautiful head. The Duke (owner of Derby winner, also called Moses), was not so tall as his brother, George IV, but more corpulent – ran more to middle – appeared to enjoy the fight much, and as, round after round, those by the ring kept calling out,’ Well done, Moses! – go it again, Moses!’ seemed to be pleased and enlivened at the sound of the word, cast up his head and gave a sort of puff with his mouth.”

 Incredibly, the attending masses at the time knew very little about the horses, the times of the races, or the results. The serious betting on the races was conducted between around two or three hundred nobleman, layers or legs and ‘gentlemen of fortune’, who, on horseback or from carriages, formed a ring around the betting post high on the Downs.

After the 1795, Derby The Times correspondent reported with a lack of merriment:

    “The Duke of Queensberry was the principal loser at Epsom races; the noble Duke had his vis-à-vis and six horses, driving about the course with two very pretty émigrés in it. Several carriages were broken to pieces, and one Lady had her arm broken. There was much private business done in the swindling way. One black-legged fellow cleared near a thousand pounds by the old trick of an E.O. table. Another had a faro table, and was on the eve of doing business, when he was detected with a palmed card; almost the whole of what may be justly styled the ‘vagabond gamblers’ of London were present. Mr Bowes, half-brother of the Earl of Strathmore, was robbed of a gold watch and a purse containing 30 guineas at Epsom races, on Thursday last (Derby Day). Many other persons shared a similar fate, both on the same evening and on Friday. Upwards of 30 coaches were robbed coming from the races.”

However, in spite of the published Derby Day warnings, it rapidly grew in popularity. Attendance swelled from around 8,000 in 1795 to ten times that number in 1823, when Bell’s Life (a forerunner of The Sporting Life and first published in 1822), reported:

   “By one o’clock there must have been eighty thousand persons assembled on the Downs – what they all went thither for is best known to themselves, but certainly not one twentieth of them saw the race, and the only other amusements were broiling on an arid heath beneath a mid-day sun, or sitting in booths crowded to suffocation amidst the fumes of tobacco and all sorts of hideous uproar…”.

Then in 1829, the first major grandstand was built at a cost of £20,000.

 This was raised by 1,000 shares at £20 each, whereupon, the Epsom Grand Stand Association Committee announced:

“The new grandstand at Epsom accommodates 5,000 spectators. It is 156ft wide and 60ft in depth. The columns of the portico are Doric, supporting a covered gallery erected on ornamental iron pillars…the roof contains about 2,000 spectators standing…everyone can see the whole Derby course.”

The Morning Chronicle advised:

“The advantages of which, when compared to the confinement of a carriage, are obvious. Prices of admission: Tuesday and Wednesday, 3s each; Thursday and Friday, 5s each; tickets for the week 12s. The magistrates for the County of Surrey are respectfully informed that they will be admitted free.”

 Benjamin Disraeli in his novel Sybil described the scene at the 1837 Derby

   “Will anyone do anything about Hybiscus?” sang out a gentleman in the ring at Epsom. It was full of eager groups; round the betting post a swarming cluster, while the magic circle itself was surrounded by a host of horsemen shouting from their saddles the odds they were ready to receive or give, and the names of the horses they were prepared to back or oppose…

“Five and thirty ponies to one against Phosphorus.” shouted a little man vociferously and repeatedly. “I will give you forty.” said Lord Milford. No answer – nothing done.

“Forty to one!” murmured Egremont who stood against Phosphorus. A little nervous, he said to the peer in the white great coat, “Don’t you think that Phosphorus may after all have some chance?” “I should be cursed sorry to be deep against him,” said the peer. Egremont with a quivering lip walked away.

 Then, after Egremont decides not to hedge his position, “the ring breaks up, all galloping off to the Warren where the horses are being saddled.” Disraeli then expresses the intense passion of those waiting, as true today for some as then:

   “A few minutes, only a few minutes, and the event that for twelve months has been the pivot of so much calculation, of such subtle combinations, of such deep conspiracies, round which the thought and passion of the sporting world have hung like eagles, will be recorded in the fleeting tablets of the past. But what minutes! Count them by sensation and not by calendars, and each moment is a day and the race a life.”

At the fall of the flag, all 17 runners got off to a good start, with The Pocket Hercules the first to show ahead of Caravan, Phosphorus, Wisdom, Benedict and Rat-trap. At the mile post Caravan and Phosphorus took over and at Tattenham Corner drew clear. The duel continued up the straight, where Phosphorus went ahead two strides from the post to win by a head, leaving Lord Egremont a poorer, but wiser man.

1837 Phosphorus
40-1 Derby winner 

 In 1838, a year after Phosphorus’s victory, the newly opened London and Southampton Railway ran its first ‘Derby Special’, from its London terminus at Nine Elms Station to Kingston, leaving the passengers to walk the remaining seven miles to Epsom!

Although the service had been well advertised no-one could have envisaged the thousands of people who waited to board the trains. The station master, guard and porters diligently packed the trains to suffocation, but when their last train left before mid-day and they closed the gates, the remaining crowd, some said as many as 5,000, took their revenge by breaking down the gates and smashing the windows, until a troop of mounted police arrived to restore some order.

The following year, the railway, courageously advertised its ‘Derby Specials’, to depart every 20 minutes. Once again thousands arrived, but those who did reach Kingston were met by cabmen who had doubled their fares to get to the racecourse.

The Derby Day rail chaos continued until, after the merger of the Croydon and Epsom Railway with the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, a terminal was opened at London Bridge in 1847, followed by a loop line from Waterloo to Epsom.

Even then, stories abounded of passengers bundled into the rear carriages and then stranded, when due to the heavy load, the train pulled away with the front portion only.

But despite the chaos and disappointments, the Epsom attendance grew year on year, as did the excuses given to employers for their absence. Grandmother’s funeral being a favourite, until some ran out of grandmothers! Nevertheless, the popularity of Derby Day became unstoppable, as the Londoner’s day out.


The Origins and Foundation of Racing at Epsom

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The Origins and Foundation of Racing at Epsom

Strangely, the events that led up to the foundation of the Derby started in the dry summer of 1618, when a humble herdsman, Henry Wicker, stumbled across a small hole full of water on the common, to the north-west of the turnpike road, between Epsom and Ashtead.

To Wicker’s amazement, after enlarging the hole in order to water his cattle, they refused to drink. And when he sampled it, neither would he. Some months later, samples of the water were examined by local physicians, who deemed it aluminous and recommended it for external use on cuts and sores. It was not until about 1830 that the highly purgative qualities of the water were discovered; this quite by chance, when a group of labourers drank deeply from the spring.

Epsom’s old wells

While at first knowledge of the waters remained local, word soon travelled to wealthy Londoners, whose appreciation of the remedy eventually brought patronage from the nobility of England, with Epsom then rivalling Tunbridge Wells for its famed cures.

John Toland, the famous religious writer noted, “Since it hath been inwardly taken, diseases have met with their cure, though they proceed from contrary causes.” He also observed that citizens of London arriving “from the worst of smokes to the best of airs”, quickly found themselves restored to perfect health. Very soon, the waters were amongst the most analysed substances in England (one gallon of water containing 480 grains of calcareous nitre), with entrepreneurs extracting and selling what became known as Epsom Salts at extravagant prices – five shillings an ounce being recorded in 1640.

Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary of 1667, “We got to Epsom by 8 a-clock to the Well, where much company; and there we light and I drank the water; they did not, but do go about and walk a little among the women, but I did drink four pints and had some very good stools by it.” Later he visited the King’s Head, the nearest inn to the Downs, “where our coachman carried us; and there had an ill room for us to go into, but the best in the house that was not taken up; here we called for drink and a bespoke dinner. And hear that my Lord Buckhurst and Nelly (Nell Gwynne, the King’s mistress), is lodged at the next house, and keeps a merry house.”

Lord Buckhurst was described by Beauclerk as,  “Cultured, witty, satirical, dissolute, and utterly charming”. Pepys reports the news on 13 July: “[Mr. Pierce tells us] Lord Buckhurst hath got Nell away from the King’s house, lies with her, and gives her £100 a year, so she hath sent her parts to the house, and will act no more.” However, Beauclerk later informs us “Nell Gwynne was acting once more in late August, and her brief affair with Buckhurst had ended.”

Pepys, himself was enamoured with Nell Gwynne and kept this Richard Thomson engraving of her as Cupid c.1672 (see left), above his desk at the Admiralty.

By the year 1690, after the many improvements made by Mr Parkhurst, Lord of the Manor, the village of Epsom had grown into a thriving town, and the humble shed originally erected for the convenience of invalids had now been replaced by a sumptuous ballroom.

 Henry Pownall, in his History of Epsom, published in 1825, said, “It became the centre of fashion; several houses were erected for lodgings, and yet the place would not contain all the visitors, many of whom were obliged to seek for accommodation in the neighbouring villages. Taverns, at that time reputed to be the largest in England, were opened; sedan chairs and numbered coaches attended.  There was a public breakfast with dancing and music, every morning at the wells. There was also a (betting) ring as in Hyde Park; and on the downs, races were held daily at noon; with cudgelling and wrestling matches, foot races etc., in the afternoon. The evenings were usually spent in private parties, assemblies or cards; and may we add, that neither Bath nor Tunbridge ever boasted of more noble visitors than Epsom, or exceeded it in its splendour, at the time we are describing.”

The earliest indications of horseracing on Banstead (Epsom) Downs are in the 1640’s. In mid-May 1648, during the throes of the Civil War, the Earl of Clarendon in his History of the Rebellion relates, “a meeting of the royalists was held on Banstead Downs, under the pretence of a horse race, and six hundred horses were collected and marched to Reigate.”

This suggests that for such an undercover rendezvous to take place, racing at Epsom must have been a regular and well-attended occasion. Under the Commonwealth (1649-60), horseracing was banned, but upon its demise, the first recorded race meeting in the country took place at Epsom on 7 March, 1661, in the presence of Charles II.

Two years later, on 27 May, Pepys wrote in his diary, “This day there was a great thronging to Banstead Downes, upon a great horse race and a foot race; I am sorry I could not go thither.”

However, an early 18th century account of an Epsom race meeting was recorded by Conrad von Uffenbach:

“At three o’clock in the afternoon we rode out to the place where the races are usually held, called Banstead Downes near Epsom. We found there vast crowds on horseback, both men and females; many of the latter wore men’s clothes and feathered hats, which is quite usual in England…We were amazed that the racecourse was so uneven and hilly. All around, almost as far as the eye could see, were placed coloured sticks or posts, round which the horses had to run twice in one race… The five horses that were to run were first covered with blankets and led by hand round the paddock so that everyone might see them and the betting on the winner begin.”

A servant of Uffenbach then timed one of the four-mile heats at nine minutes, which greatly impressed their party.

In 1706, John Livingstone, having previously established himself as an apothecary in Epsom, purchased a plot of land in the town to build a pleasure-palace for dancing and gaming, adding a jewellers shop and a bowling green. Livingstone’s ambition went further. A distance from his amenities he sank a well, installed a pump and, with a great deal of publicity, laid underground pipes directly into his establishment. Furthermore, to ensure his success, he bought up the lease on the original well and then locked up the site.

Although tasting similarly foul, the new spring water had no medicinal properties. This however, did not stop Livingstone, who sent faked samples to reputable chemists to enhance the water’s reputation and, since the old wells were shut-up, no lawful comparison could be made.

In 1716, after two genuine mineral springs were discovered at Cheltenham, Epsom’s fortune went into decline, although in 1720, the time of the South Sea Bubble, Pownell relates, “There was, however, a temporary renewal of its former gaiety and dissipation….when the alchemists, Dutch, German and Jews, again filled the village; its balls and amusements were revived, and gaming with every other description of profligacy and vice, prevailed to an enormous extent.”

When the bubble burst, Epsom was again deserted, but in 1736, its fortunes took a turn at the arrival of a celebrated female bonesetter – Sarah Wallin – known to all as ‘Crazy Sally’. Apparently, she could put a man’s shoulder back without assistance and her success with fractures and dislocations caused the inhabitants of Epsom to raise an annual subscription of £300 a year to induce her to stay. She did for while but then, at the height of her fame, she fell in love with a Mr Hill Mapp, from Ludgate Hill – a footman and by all accounts a rogue. The marriage, strongly opposed by the Epsom residents, was a disaster, Mapp taking all her money and then abandoning her to die in a pauper’s grave in the London slum of St Giles.

A final effort to restore Epsom as a spa came around 1760, when a surgeon from London, Mr Dale Ingram, offered public breakfasts, washed down with a concoction of magnesia and Epsom salts. His success, however, was limited and many years later, in 1804, the buildings of the Old Wells were demolished and replaced by a private house.

Throughout the fluctuating fortunes in the town, race meetings on the Downs had become a regular feature in May and October from 1730, with prizes of cups and plates provided by the local nobility.

In 1775, a year after his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, Edward Stanley leased The Oaks, a country house with 180 acres at Woodmansterne, near Epsom, from his uncle by marriage, General John Burgoyne. Burgoyne, a ‘father confessor’ to Stanley, ran the gamut of being a gambler, soldier, playwright and M.P. for Preston. However, he is remembered for surrendering Saratoga to the rebels in the American War of Independence, after which he became a prisoner of war.

In February, 1776, the 11th Earl of Derby died and Edward Stanley succeeded to become the 12th Earl. At the Epsom May Meeting in 1778, Lord Derby, who often acted as a steward at the meeting, invited a party of friends to his house, including Burgoyne, Richard Sheridan the playwright and Charles Fox, the prominent Whig politician. Burgoyne, impressed with Anthony St Leger’s previous one-off sweepstakes at Cantley Common (forerunners of the St Leger), suggested to Lord Derby, that since the four-day race programme consisted solely of heats of either two or four miles, that the following year, a single race over one and a half miles for three-year-old fillies, would add some spice to the meeting.

12th Earl of Derby

The race named after Lord Derby’s house, The Oaks, was first run on Friday, 14 May, 1779 and was considered a great success, members of Lord Derby’s party all won money and that evening, another new race for both colts and fillies was planned for the following year. While there are no details in the archives at Knowsley concerning the foundation of the Derby, history has passed on the tale that the 12th Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury (the leading figure in the Jockey Club, who was staying at the Oaks) spun a coin as to whether the race should be called the Derby Stakes or the Bunbury Stakes.


The first running of the Derby Stakes was on Thursday, 4 May 1780. Open to three-year-old colts (8st 0lb) and fillies (7st 11lb), at 50 guineas each (half forfeit) and run over the last mile of the Orbicular Course. There were 36 subscribers and nine runners, and although Lord Derby won the toss of the coin, it was Sir Charles Bunbury who owned the first winner – Diomed

In addition that day, a race for the Noblemen and Gentlemen’s Purse of £50 (for five and six-year-olds, run in three heats over four miles), was won by King Fergus, a future Champion Sire and son of Eclipse, who notably, sired three of the six winners at this four-day meeting.

The day’s entertainment also featured a main of cockfighting between the birds of the Gentlemen of Middlesex and Surrey, and those of the Gentlemen of Wiltshire. Enthusiastically supported by Lord Derby and his guests, cockfighting was at this time regarded the country’s principal sport, with results carried in the National press.

At the end of that day, no-one could have predicted that Diomed would provide the first link in a chain of winners extending over more than two and a quarter centuries, one that has made the Derby, together with the Oaks, the two oldest sporting events, continually run, in the world.


Enable’s Powerful Pedigree

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Enable’s Powerful Pedigree


After Enable’s thrilling victory in the Longines Breeders’Cup Turf at Churchill Downs, what better time to re-examine the mare’s pedigree.



The first thing we notice is that she is inbred 2 x 3 to Sadler’s Wells, a fact rarely referred to when we marvel at her achievements.


Sadler’s Wells was Champion Sire in G.B & Ireland 13 times between 1990 and 2003, during which time he sired five winners of the Oaks and the notable stallions: Montjeu (sire of four Epsom Derby winners); High Chaparral (won Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and the Breeders’Cup Turf twice), and his jewell in the crown – Galileo.


Galileo, also won the English and Irish Derby’s, going on to be now, 10 times Champion Sire. Among his produce are three Derby winners – New Approach (2008), Ruler Of The World (2013) and Australia (2014),  three Oaks winners – Was (2012), Minding (2016) and Forever Together (2018), not forgetting the sensational Guineas winner, Frankel, unbeaten in 14 races.


Enable’s star-studded third generation also boasts, Urban Sea, winner of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Silver Hawk, sire of Derby winner, Benny The Dip, Northern Dancer, Kentucky Derby winner and Champion Sire in both G.B & Ireland and North America, and, Mill Reef’s son, Shirley Heights, whose colt Slip Anchor completed a line of three Derby winners.


But what of Enables sire and dam?

Her sire, Nathaniel, won 4 races (from 11 starts) incl: King Edward VII Stakes, Ascot, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, beating Workforce, and the Coral-Eclipse Stakes, Sandown.

Nathaniel sired Enable from his first crop and stands at Newsells Park Stud (GB) at a fee of £25,000 for 2019


Her dam, Concentric, won 3 races (from 7 starts): Prix de Chaillot and Prix de Cheffreville, Lonchamp, Prix Charles Laffitte, Chantilly.  She has bred 4 winners from 5 foals incl. Tournament b.g. 2011 by Oasis Dream, won 3 races incl. Ladbrokes Handicap, (AW) Lingfield; Handicap (AW) Kempton; Contribution b.f. 2012 by Champs Elysees, won 1 race: Prix Kasteel, Maisons-Laffitte; Centroid b.c.2015 by Dansili, won 1 race, Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden, Leopardstown.


But back to Enable herself. She has won 10 races (from 11 starts): Maiden Fillies Stakes (AW), Newcastle, Arkle Finance Cheshire Oaks, Investec Oaks Stakes (race record time), Darley Irish Oaks, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, Darley Yorkshire Oaks, Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (twice), 118Bet September Stakes (AW), Kempton, Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf (Churchill Downs).


And now we know she stays in training for 2019


Steve Donoghue, Joe Childs & Tommy Weston

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Three famous Jockeys who rode between the Wars


Steve Donoghue (1884-1945), born in Warrington, the son of a steelworker, he was champion jockey 10 times from 1914 to 1923. His 14 Classic wins included six in the Derby, including a record three on the trot – Humorist (1921), Captain Cuttle (1922) and Papyrus (1923) and two wins in the Oaks on My Dear (1918) and the misspelt Exhibitionnist (1937). His great popularity with the public, expressed through the shout of “Come on Steve” became a catchphrase of the nation.

Perseverance was the key to Steve’s success, for his early attempts to become a jockey brought many reversals. As a young lad at John Porter’s yard at Kingsclere, Steve had run away when severely beaten after his mount had got loose on the gallops and upset the stable star Flying Fox. Brief stays with Dobson Peacock at Middleham and Alfred Sadler junior at Newmarket followed. However, frustrated with his lack of opportunity, Steve applied for a job with American trainer Edward Johnson in France, where eventually, he rode his first winner, Hanoi, at the age of 21.

Gordon Richards recalled Steve as a “lovable character” and, in the days when jockeys travelled by train, remembered him as being invariably late and last to board:

“He always bought a First Class ticket and always travelled in the guards van.”



Joe Childs (1884-1958), born in Chantilly, was later apprenticed to Tom Jennings jnr at Phantom House, Newmarket. In 1901, he had his first big race success, winning the Royal Hunt Cup on the 4-1 favourite Stealaway (4y-6st-7lb). In 1910, he began riding in Germany for Fred Darling, who at that time trained there. On the outbreak of war, he returned to England, and whilst serving in the 4th Hussars and, despite his outbreaks of petulance, he obtained regular leave to ride in the major races. In 1916, he won both the Derby and Oaks on Fifinella (pictured). And, after winning the Triple Crown on Gainsborough in 1918, he gave all his riding fees to regimental funds.

In 1925, he was appointed first jockey to King George V and three years later, won the One Thousand Guineas for him on Scuttle. An exponent of the ‘late rush’, Childs rode most of his 15 Classic winners that way. Nevertheless, when riding Coronach in the 1926 Derby for Fred Darling, he obeyed his orders – leading from start to finish, to win by five lengths.

On retirement, he owned a small stud in Nazeing, Essex and a controlling interest in Portsmouth Greyhound Stadium. Joe Childs had four brothers – all jockeys – Albert, Arthur, Henry and Charles – the latter winning the 1916 St Leger on Hurry On.



Tommy Weston (1903-1981) was the son of a wagon driver for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. Tommy weighed only 4st 3lb when apprenticed to E McCormack at Middleham and rode his first winner on Sally Crag at Newmarket on 2 August, 1918. The following year, Steve Donoghue recommended him to Newmarket trainer Alfred Day Sadler, who needed a jockey to scale 6st 3lb for Arion in the Kempton Park Great Jubilee Handicap (run that year at Hurst Park). Not only did young Weston get the job, but won the race by six lengths at odds of 10-1, with Donoghue back in second.

Later, as stable jockey for trainer George Lambton at Stanley House, Newmarket, he rode eight of his 11 Classic victories for Lord Derby (17th Earl), headed by the Derby successes of Sansovino (1924) and Hyperion (1933). He also rode three winners of the Oaks – Beam (1927), Toboggan (1928) and Lovely Rosa (1936).

Weston was Champion Jockey in 1926 with 95 winners, before Gordon Richards settled in to dominate the list. Without explanation, Weston’s retainer with Lord Derby was not renewed for 1935. At the start of the Second World War, Weston volunteered for the Royal Navy and served on the troopships off North Africa. Torpedoed by an Italian submarine in 1943, he was picked-up after three days aboard a raft in the Atlantic. After the war, he won the 1946 Lincolnshire Handicap on the heavily-backed favourite Langton Abbot, drawing clear from half-way and winning by four lengths from 36 rivals. His final classic victory came that year when winning the 2,000 Guineas by four lengths on the 28-1 shot Happy Knight.

The Derby Day Poem

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The Derby Day Poem


Derby Day


Today is Derby Day!

The Thoroughbred in bloom,

The hopes and dreams of many men

Are shown this afternoon.


The plans, the trials, the joy, the tears

Have happened all before;

The race has run two hundred years

And shall for many more.


If you are in the Queen’s Stand,

Or out there on the Downs,

Or riding in the funfair,

The magic comes around.


The scene could run forever,

As only the players change,

You make a bet, they shout “They’re off”,

You turn another page.


                                                                                                                                                    Michael Church               


Epsom Downs in Wartime

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Epsom Downs in Wartime


Throughout the First World War 1914-1918, Epsom Racecourse made an important contribution on the home front. There was a military encampment on the Downs, while both grandstands were used as hospitals.


Famously, on 22 January 1915, on a snow covered Epsom Downs in blizzard conditions, Lord Kitchener held an inspection of 20,000 volunteers from the 2nd London Division, before they marched off to the Western Front.




Meanwhile, to safeguard the continuity of the Derby and Oaks, the races were run at  Newmarket from 1915-1918, until racing resumed at Epsom for the Spring Meeting in 1919.


Twenty-one years of peace followed until on 3rd September, 1939, at 11.15 a.m. Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, broadcast to the nation the following statement.


   “This morning the British Ambassador in Berlin handed the German Government a final note stating that, unless we heard from them by 11 o’clock that they were prepared at once to withdraw their troops from Poland, a state of war would exist between us.

   I have to tell you now, that no such undertaking has been received, and that consequently this country is at war with Germany.”


To begin with there were little signs of disruption, however, by the end of 1939, Epsom was commandeered by the Army and the following January, its race meetings were abandoned until further notice.


There were plans to hold the Epsom Classics at Newbury, but these too were abandoned after strong opposition from the local council. Eventually, the meeting was transferred to the Summer Course at Newmarket, where over the 12 & 13 of June 1940, they were run as the New Derby Stakes and the New Oaks Stakes, as previously titled throughout the First World War.


Interestingly, in contrast to the moral indignation raised against racing during the First World War, significantly, the ‘never say die’ spirit of the public travelled with or without petrol coupons, to the 1940 Derby, only days after the evacuation of Dunkirk. Two years later, setting the seal of approval, King George VI won four of the five Classics, only missing out with Big Game in the Derby, when attending with Queen Elizabeth.


Meanwhile at Epsom, the military moved into the Prince’s Stand using it as the Officers Mess. Although, not every battle was lost, for in 1943, after a prolonged dispute between the Epsom Grand Stand Association and the nation’s food producers, the Surrey War Agricultural Committee announced its decision to forego their claim to plough up the gallops.



The racecourse, however, was affected by bombing. Parts of the Grandstand were damaged and there were craters in the enclosures. Nevertheless, everything was patched up in time and the pre-war carnival spirit was in evidence for the first post-war Derby on Wednesday, 5 June 1946.


On a day more like January than June, it was reported that 250,000 people attended. For the first time, the Royal family, including the King and Queen, Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth, drove down the course from Tattenham Corner, whereupon, as if by Royal appointment, the sun came out.


The winner, Airborne, only the fourth grey to do so, started at 50-1 and appropriately, was backed by the mothers, wives and sweethearts of those in the service.



Godolphin Strike Back

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Godolphin Strike Back

Masar, the first Investec Derby winner in Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin blue, has reopened the battle between racings two superpowers. And with the Sheikh now investing in Coolmore stallions, we look forward to a healthy competition for the Classics in England and Ireland.


This year’s Derby was run under blue skies and before a bumper crowd. The betting centred on one horse – Saxon Warrior – winner of the 2000 Guineas and best of five Aiden O’Brien entries, starting at 4-5 favourite; Roaring Lion, winner of the Dante Stakes, was next best at 6-1, while Young Rascal (Chester Vase) and Hazapour (Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial), were popular alternatives. The Godolphin hope, Masar, third to Saxon Warrior when favourite for the Guineas, attracted each-way support at 16-1.

The 12 runners on their way, Kew Gardens, Dee Ex Bee and Knight To Behold, led the field for the first half-mile. On to the highest point of the course, Knight To Behold headed Kew Gardens with The Pentagon and Hazapour two lengths away. There was little change in the order until entering the straight, when after Kew Gardens and Knight To Behold gave way, Hazapour took up the running from Dee Ex Bee, with Masar mounting a challenge and Roaring Lion closing fast. Suddenly, Masar forged ahead, leaving Dee Ex Bee and Roaring Lion to scrap for the places, while Saxon Warrior, the disappointment of the race, finished fourth.

Run on Saturday, 2 June, 2018 as the Investec Derby Stakes over the Derby Course of one mile and a half and 6 yards, Epsom Downs. For three-year-olds; entire colts 9st 0lb, fillies 8st 11lb. 455 entries. Value to winner £850,650.


1st MASAR William Buick 16-1
2nd DEE EX BEE Silvestre de Sousa 20-1 1½ lengths
3rd ROARING LION Oisin Murphy 6-1 ½ length


Also ran: 4th Saxon Warrior (Ryan Moore) 4-5 Fav; Hazapour (Frankie Dettori) 12-1; Delano Roosevelt (Seamie Heffeman) 16-1; Young Rascal (James Doyle) 17-2: The Pentagon (Wayne Lordan) 33-1; Kew Gardens (Donnacha O’Brien) 16-1; Sevenna Star (Robert Havlin); Knight To Behold (Richard Kingscote) 14-1; Zabriskie (P B Beggy) 66-1 (tailed off, last).

12 ran. Time: 2 min. 34.93 sec.  

BRED by Godolphin.

OWNED by Godolphin.

TRAINED by Charlie Appleby at Newmarket, Suffolk.

The winner, MASAR, has won 4 races (from 8 starts), incl. BetBright Solario Stakes, Sandown, Bet365 Craven Stakes, Newmarket, Investec Derby Stakes. Third in Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes.

The sire, NEW APPROACH, ch.c. 2005 by GALILEO ex PARK EXPRESS, won 8 races (from 11 starts) incl. Dewhurst Stakes, Newmarket, Vodafone Derby Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes, Leopardstown,  Champion Stakes (in Course record time 2 m. 0.13 sec.), Newmarket. Second in Two Thousand Guineas Stakes, Newmarket & Irish 2000 Guineas, The Curragh. Sire of DAWN APPROACH ch.c. 2010 ex HYMN OF THE DAWN by PHONE TRICK, won Coventry Stakes, Ascot, Dewhurst Stakes, Newmarket, Two Thousand Guineas Stakes, St James’s Palace Stakes, Ascot; LIBERTARIAN b.c.2010 ex INTRUM MORSHAAN by DARSHAAN, won Dante Stakes, York, second in Investec Derby Stakes; TALENT ch.f. 2010 ex PROWESS by PEINTRE CELEBRE, won Pretty Polly Stakes, Newmarket, Investec Oaks Stakes.

The dam, KHAWLAH, b.f. 2008 by CAPE CROSS ex VILLARRICA, won 3 races (from 10 starts) incl. UAE Oaks and UAE Derby, Meydan. MASAR was her second foal.

Forever Together wins the Investec Oaks

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Forever Together wins the Investec Oaks

The first maiden to win the race since Sun Princess in 1983, Forever Together, stormed home by four and a half lengths to give Aidan O’Brien his seventh winner in the race.

Seven days before the race, however, the Oaks betting was thrown into chaos when the John Gosden-trained ante-post favourite, Lah Ti Dar, returned an unsatisfactory blood test and was withdrawn. Wild Illusion, fourth in the 1000 Guineas, was then made 5-2 favourite, with Magic Wand, winner of the Cheshire Oaks at 4-1 and the runner-up, Forever Together, on 7-1.

On ground described as Soft (Good to soft in places), Flattering, Bye Bye Baby and Wild Illusion, took them up to the mile post, where Bye Bye Baby went on, going four lengths clear at the top of the hill, extending to seven lengths at Tattenham Corner. From coming up the middle of the straight, Bye Bye Baby moved towards the stands’ rail to do battle with Wild Illusion and Forever Together.

Two furlongs out, Forever Together (rails) and Wild Illusion forged ahead, with Donnacha O’Brien on Forever Together, drawing away at the distance to win by four and a half lengths. Bye Bye Baby, keeping up the gallop, finished third, a further three and a half lengths away.

In a blanket attack on the race, Aidan O’Brien trained five of the nine runners, four of which were by Galileo.

Purists may like to know an extra 12 yards had been added to the distance to protect the ground on the inner rail for Derby day.         




RUN on Friday, 1 June, 2018, as the Investec Oaks, over the Derby Course of one mile and a half and 6 yards, Epsom Downs. For three-year-old fillies, 9st 0lb. Value to winner £283,550.

1st   FOREVER TOGETHER      Donnacha O’Brien     7-1

2nd  WILD ILLUSION              William Buick              5-2 Fav

3rd  BYE BYE BABY                 Wayne Lordan             8-1

Distances: 4 1/2 lengths and 3 1/2 lengths

Also ran: 4th Magic Wand (Ryan Moore) 4-1; Flattering (P.B. Beggy) 11-1; Give And Take (James Doyle) 16-1; Perfect Clarity (Adam Kirby) 5-1; I Can Fly (Seamie Heffernan) 9-1 (tailed off); Ejtyah (Jamie Spencer) 25-1(last, 98½ lengths behind the winner).   9 ran. Time: 2 min. 40.39 sec.


BRED by Vimal and Gillian Khosia.

OWNED by Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs John Magnier.

TRAINED by A P O’Brien at Cashel, Co.Tipperary.


The winner, FOREVER TOGETHER, a late May foal, has won 1 race (from 4 starts): Investec Oaks Stakes.   

 The sire, GALILEO b.c. 1998 by SADLER’S WELLS ex URBAN SEA, won 6 races (from 8 starts) incl. Vodafone Derby Stakes, Budweiser Irish Derby, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes. Champion Sire in G.B. & Ireland 2008 & 2010-2017. Sire of 3 Epsom Derby winners: NEW APPROACH ch.c. 2005; RULER OF THE WORLD ch.c. 2010; AUSTRALIA ch.c. 2011, and of 2 other Epsom Oaks winners: WAS b.f. 2009; MINDING b.f. 2013. Also sire of FRANKEL b.c. 2008, won 14 races,  incl. Two Thousand Guineas Stakes, (unbeaten).

 The dam, GREEN ROOM b. or br. f. 2002 by THEATRICAL ex CHAIN FERN, was unraced. She has bred 7 winners from 8 foals (FOREVER TOGETHER was her 7th), incl. TOGETHER FOREVER b.f. 2012 by GALILEO, won 3 races incl. Dubai Fillies’ Mile, Newmarket.


Masar makes it 7 Derby Trio’s

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Masar makes it 7 Derby Trio’s


When Masar won the 2018 Investec Derby he became the seventh Derby winner whose sire and grandsire had also won the Derby – so forming the threefold prepotent sire line of Masar (won 2018) – New Approach (2008) – Galileo (2001).



Whilst we await the further exploits of Masar (seen above), his Derby-winning sire, New Approach, notably, won the Champion Stakes at Newmarket in a Course record time, while his sire, the great Galileo, has been Champion Sire in G.B. & Ireland, nine times.


The previous trio of grandsire, sire and foal was, Mill Reef (won 1971) – Shirley Heights (1978) – Slip Anchor (1985).

Mill Reef also won the Eclipse Stakes, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Prix de l’ Arc de Triomphe and the Coronation Cup.

Notably, after fracturing his near-foreleg, he was the first horse in England to benefit from the insertion of a steel plate into his leg, in an operation that took six hours.  His son, Shirley Heights, also won the Irish Derby and sired the ‘trap to line’ Derby winner Slip Anchor.


The first trio of grandsire, sire and foal, successful in Epsom’s great race was Waxy (won 1793) – Whalebone (1810) – Lap-dog (1826) and Spaniel (1831).

Waxy and Whalebone were both Champion Sires, while in contrast, Whalebone’s sons, Lap-dog and Spaniel, both won the Derby as 50-1 outsiders.

The next set also started with two great racehorses, Bay Middleton (won 1836) and The Flying Dutchman (1849), however, the latter’s foal, Ellington (1856), owned by Admiral Harcourt, produced no notable progeny.

Doncaster (won 1873), Bend Or (1880) and Ormonde (1886), proved a very strong trio. Doncaster also won the Goodwood and Ascot Gold Cups; BendOr , interestingly, added the City & Suburban and Epsom Gold Cup, and his foal, Ormonde, not only won the Triple Crown, but became the outstanding Derby winner of the 19th century.





Next come the popular trio – Spearmint (won 1906), Spion Kop (1920) and Felstead (1928). Spearmint was by the great American horse Carbine; Spion Kop was ex Hammerkop, a Cesarewitch winner who was 17-y-o when foaling her only winner; while Felstead went on to sire the 1938 One Thousand Guineas and Oaks winner Rockfel.

Our final trio here is of Gainsborough (won1918), Hyperion (1933) and Owen Tudor (1941).

Gainsborough won the wartime Triple Crown, with all legs run at Newmarket; his son, Hyperion, was probably, the best loved horse in England between the wars and was Champion Sire six times. His colt, Owen Tudor, added the wartime St Leger and Gold Cup, before siring the celebrated miler, Tudor Minstrel (rated 142 in 1947) and Abernant, twice winner of the July Cup and Nunthorpe Stakes, (rated 139 in 1950).


I hope you agree, an all together interesting collection, and pillars within the history of the Derby Stakes.


Where did the first Derby start from?

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Where did the first Derby start from?

The 1780 Racing Calendar states that the first Derby, was run at Epsom on Thursday, 4th of May, over “the last mile of the Course”,

But which Course?

Strangely, previous historians could not agree – Roger Mortimer, author of two large volumes of Derby history, including a map of the previous Derby Courses, which I in turn endorsed, believed it was run on the original 17th century four-mile course on Banstead Downs, the last mile turning into the Epsom home straight from a spur behind the stands (see A on the map).

In contrast, both David Hunn (author of Epsom Racecourse) and Michael Seth-Smith (in Epsom’s Official History, Derby 200), believed the original Derby Course to be a straight mile that extended beyond the current five furlong start (see B on the map).

However, our focused research eventually proved that all had been mistaken.

On New Year’s Day, 2018, I received an email from Kevin McCarthy, a local researcher and Derby enthusiast, who on a mission to locate the exact starting place of the first Derby, suggested we could solve the mystery together.  We did, but not before we spent months studying ancient maps and searching through every book and newspaper relating to the history of Epsom Downs Racecourse.

To put our research into context, the early running’s of the Oaks and Derby were regarded as ground breaking events, for at this time almost all races were run in either two or four-mile heats, a horse having to win two heats to secure the prize. Many racecourses, including Epsom had a two-mile course, with the four-mile heats run over two circuits. However, in the 18th century, Epsom had both a two-mile orbicular course, situated on the site of the present racecourse and, a four-mile cross-country course which started on Banstead Downs, close to Lord Derby’s house The Oaks.

Previous researchers had then assumed the early Classics were run from the latter, and until both races were run over “the New Derby Course” in 1784, the Racing Calendar’s vague descriptions of “the last mile of the Course”, for the first Derby and the “last mile and a ½”, for the Oaks, gave historians no reason to believe otherwise.

William Kemp’s detailed 1824 map, A Plan and Survey of Epsom Race Course clearly shows that the Orbicular Course, recorded by John Toland in his 1711 publication, A Description of Epsom and its Amusement, incorporated its own internal two/four-mile course, distinct from the older one. Nevertheless, the Racing Calendar’s course descriptions could still refer to either racecourse.

Finally, a breakthrough came when finding conclusive evidence in H.E. Malden’s essay, An Eighteenth-Century Journey Through Surrey And Sussex:

“The old straight racecourse on Banstead Downs was disused about 1740, according to Salmon’s History and Antiquities of Surrey, and the “orbicular course” at Epsom, which had existed when Toland wrote thirty years earlier, had quite superseded it.”

“The old Epsom course started at Langley Bottom, out of sight of the place where the Grand Stand is now, and came round the Warren into the present course on top of the hill, and went right round from the present winning-post to Langley Bottom again. It was adapted for running four-mile heats.”.  [Pp 35-36 Surrey Archaeological Collections (Bosworth & Co., Guildford, 1916)]

So at last, we had the answer. The original start of the 1780 Derby was in fact, situated at the mile post on the old Orbicular or Cup Course (see C on the map), to be found just a few yards from today’s far running rail, near the busy sand gallop – quite forgotten – until now. And therefore, for future generations history has been re-written.

In the week leading up to the 2019 Derby the Epsom management put up a plaque to commemorate the starting place of the first Derby. This was placed as near as possible to the spot, taking into consideration the nearby busy sand gallop.

The authors of this project were Kevin McCarthy and Michael Church (Official Derby Historian).


For the full academic paper click here – Full 17 page Academic Essay