The town of Epsom in Surrey England first became famous for it’s natural mineral water when a local farmer, Henry Wicker took his cattle up to a watering hole on the Downs in 1618. The alleged healing properties of the water brought crowds from London who wanted to escape the squalor in return for the country air.
1661 saw the first recorded race meeting to be held on the Downs and the tradition continued until the summer of 1779 when one of today’s greatest sporting spectacles was established – The Epsom Derby.
The title of the race was decided after the Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, a leading racing figure of the day and friend of the Earl’s, flipped a coin. So begun the inaugural running of the ‘Derby’ won, incidentally, by Sir Charles Bunbury’s horse Diomed.
The contest was held over a mile with the starting point in a straight line beyond the current five-furlong marker. Tattenham Corner was not introduced until 1784 when the course was extended to its current distance of a mile- and-a-half. The Derby Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race open to three-year-old thoroughbred colts and fillies.
Edward Smith Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, organised a race for himself and his friends to race their three-year-old fillies over one and a half miles. He named it the Epsom Oaks after his estate. The race became so successful that the following year a new race was added for colts and fillies.
The Oaks Stakes is a Group 1 flat horse race open to three-year-old thoroughbred fillies. It is run over a distance of 1 mile 4 furlongs and 10 yards
On the first Friday in June as part of the Derby Festival, Epsom hosts “Ladies Day” on the day of the feature race – The Oaks. It is the day when Ladies take centre stage both on and off the course, and they have a ‘Style on The Downs’ competition the most stylish racegoer will win a fabulous prize (for the last 4 years it’s been a brand new Jeep!).
The Derby and the Oaks are two of the five British Classic Races and form two parts of the BHB English Triple Crown, along with the Coronation Cup (also at Epsom) and The Prince of Wales’s Stakes run at Royal Ascot in June