The Epsom Derby - History, Traditions, and Betting Practices

In terms of Thoroughbred horse races, none holds more tradition and prestige than the Epsom Derby, held every year in Surrey, England. In fact, it is known by most in the country as just "The Derby," as if to separate it from all of the other "Derby" races around the world that have followed in its wake. (Due to a corporate sponsor of the race, it is also now known as the Investec Derby.)

On that first Saturday in the month of June each year, the entire nation of Great Britain, as well as millions of horse racing fans watching and betting online, are in thrall to this amazing race.

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The Epsom Derby goes back farther than most major horse races, as its first running was held back in 1780. It is contested over a distance of approximately 1.5 miles (2,420 meters) on the grass at Epsom Downs Racecourse. Only three-year-old colts and fillies are eligible for the race, and it stands as the second leg of British horse racing's Triple Crown.

Many of the country's greatest racing superstars have made their mark with wins in the Epsom Derby. The race is also noted for the pomp surrounding it, with a carnival atmosphere that takes place over several days at the track and draws thousands of fans to the area.

More than anything, it is a lure for horse racing bettors, or "punters" as they are known in Great Britain, who make their wagers either at the track, in betting shops around the country, or at some of the many horse racing betting websites which include the Derby as part of their offerings.

Epsom Derby History

The Earls of Derby expressed great interest in horses and racing all the way back to the 17th century. In 1779, the Epsom Oaks, a race for three-year-old fillies, was initiated, and it stands as the sister race to the Derby.

A year later, the Epsom Derby began, and legend has it that the name of the race came down to a coin flip between the twelfth Earl of Derby and his house guest at the time, Sir Charles Bunbury.

The Earl won that flip with a call of heads, and on May 4, 1780, a horse named Diomed captured the first running of the Epsom Derby. Initial Derby races were contested at a mile, but four years later, the distance was stretched out to the more familiar mile and a half.

Epsom Derby Crown Chasing

Because the race was held during the coinciding Epsom Fair in the area, it was often run in the middle of the week. In 1995, the Derby was permanently moved to the first Saturday each June. This was in part to draw larger crowds to the event who might have been otherwise working during the week.

Over time, the Epsom Derby came to be recognized as the middle leg of Great Britain's Triple Crown. The other two races included were the 2,000 Guineas Stakes and the St. Leger Stakes. Incredibly, only 15 horses have won all three races since 1809 when they were all held in the same year for the first time.

In a sense, the Epsom Derby first went national when radio became involved, with the initial BBC broadcast in 1927. In 1960, the BBC and ITV first televised the event for a national audience. Now, as befitting a major horse racing event that often draws international interest, many online gambling sites offer worldwide bettors the chance to participate in this one-of-a-kind race.

Classic Epsom Derby Champions

As you look back through history, you will see an incredible list of champions of the Derby, many of whom stand out as some of the best Thoroughbreds in British racing. In 1886, Ormonde made the Epsom Derby part of his incredible unbeaten run, as he eventually finished his career without a loss after 16 races.

Going down the line, the legendary Sea-Bird could stake a claim as the greatest Derby winner ever, as he would win seven of eight career races, including a victory in the equally prestigious Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in France.

1971 saw Mill Reef capture the Epsom Derby as part of his long-standing rivalry with Brigadier Gerard; Mill Reef won 12 of 14 races. Four years later, Grundy would win the Derby just a month or so before he would go on to win the so-called "Race of the Century" against Bustino. In 1981, Shergar made a mockery of the field, winning by 10 lengths, which is still a record.

Finally, in 2009, Sea-Bird rolled to an impressive victory in the Epsom Derby and staked his claim as an all-time champion. He had also won the 2,000 Guineas Stakes and decided against a chance at the Triple Crown, racing instead against older horses in the Eclipse Stakes. The colt would go on to win that race as well as the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Notable Epsom Derby Races

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Eleanor became the first ever female winner of the race. There have been six fillies total to come home a winner.


In perhaps the greatest controversy in Derby history, a horse named Running Rein came across the line first. However, it was claimed that this horse was actually a four-year-old imposter who had been substituted for the real Running Rein.

Judges disqualified this horse and named second-place finisher Orlando the winner.


Mirrors captured the Derby, which made him the first horse with regal ownership to do so. King Edward VII owned the horse.


The race, won by Airborne, marked the first appearance by then-Princess Elizabeth at the Epsom Derby. She would go on to be Queen.


As Pour Moi crossed the line, his teenage jockey, Mickael Barzalona, stood up in the saddle to celebrate before the finish line. He was reprimanded for his actions.


Middleton and Amato, the two winners during these years, had never raced before the Derby and would never race again.


For the only time in Epsom Derby history, the race ended in a dead heat for the win, with Harvester and St. Gatien coming across the line together.


Another controversial finish. Heavy favorite Craganour and long shot Aboyeur battled in the stretch violently, as both jockeys appeared to steer their horses into one another. After a long debate among track officials, Aboyeur was awarded the victory by disqualification at 100-1, which matched the longest odds for a winner in race history.


Nijinsky, the last of the British Triple Crown winners, won the Derby on his way to that amazing accomplishment.


Recent Epsom Derby Champions

Year Winner Jockey Notes
2014 Australia Joseph O'Brien It was the third straight win for trainer Aidan O'Brien, made special by the fact that his son Joseph was the jockey
2015 Golden Horn Frankie Dettori The win marked the second for Dettori, with his first in 2007 ending a long drought for him in the Derby
2016 Harzand Pat Smullen Won the Derby despite the fact that he was injured before the race, and many thought he wouldn't even compete
2017 Wings of Eagles Padraig Beggy He was one of the bigger long-shot winners in recent years, flying up in the final strides to win at 40-1
2018 Masar William Buick He became the first winner of the Epson Derby to be owned by the highly successful Godolphin Stables

Epsom Derby Traditions

The Epsom Derby is part of a much larger celebration known as the Epsom Fair. In its earliest runnings, the race was merely part of the festivities. In recent times, however, the Derby has transitioned into the centerpiece of the four-day event, what with its worldwide audience and tremendous betting interest.

Still, a lot of the old traditions remain, such as Ladies Day on the Friday before the Derby. On that day, the Epsom Oaks is run, and the day is known for the extremely fashionable styles worn by those who attend.

On the Saturday of the Epsom Derby, a carnival-like atmosphere pervades on the "Hill," which is essentially the infield of the racing surface.

For those who are interested in staying with the elite while watching the race, you can check out the Queen's Stand. There, only the finest attire is allowed, including top hat and tails for men. The grandstand area also has a dress code that insists upon somewhat formal attire for a horse race.

The Epsom Derby Betting Frequently Asked Questions

It is impossible to even think about such a major horse racing event as the Epsom Derby without considering the betting that goes on. If you're new to the betting aspect of horse racing, here is a quick primer on how to go about it and get the most enjoyment from this incredible race.

Where Do I Bet on the Epsom Derby?

If you are one of those lucky enough to attend this historical, exciting race, you can place a bet right there on site. One of the aspects that distinguishes British horse racing is the presence of bookmakers to take your wagers. The bookmakers act independently of one another, meaning that you can potentially look around for the best odds for the horse of your choosing.

You have to realize that the bookmakers offer fixed odds. That means that once you make a bet, your odds will not change as the race approaches. Some prefer knowing that their odds are set in stone, especially if they can get favorable ones on their horse of choice.

By contrast, you can also find tote wagering at the Epsom Derby. Tote wagering is distinguished by pools that accumulate all of the money wagered. Your winnings, should your bet come in the way you wanted, are determined by the size of those pools and the number of winners.

In the case of tote wagering, you can expect the odds to change right up until the moment of the race when all the betting is closed. Only then will you know the final odds for the horse in question. The idea with tote wagering is to find a horse, or horses, that is undervalued by the betting public at large and hope that it performs well.

Is There Online Wagering Available on the Epsom Derby?

If you can't make it out to the Derby, many of the top bookmaking organizations in Great Britain offer online services. Or you can just find an online wagering site that caters to international horse racing. Since the Epsom Derby is a race of great renown, you can expect that you will be able to make wagers in this manner.

When choosing such a site, it's important to find one that suits your needs. Those needs might pertain to the bonuses that you get for signing on to the website. Or it can be in terms of the minimums and the timing of the withdrawals and deposits.

With online gambling being such a major business these days, you can rest assured that the variety of sites catering to your interest in the Epsom Derby will be extensive. Keep in mind, though, that not all of them are secure, reliable, pay out quickly, offer a variety of wagers, and present you with a great user experience.

But choose one from our carefully-composed list above, and your experience should be a positive one, especially if you can pick the winners.

What Kinds of Bets Can I Make on the Epsom Derby?

The two main bets that are made by the casual bettor at the Epsom Derby are win and place bets. Sometimes they are made in tandem for what is called an Each Way bet. The Each Way bet is similar to an across-the-board bet for those who are familiar with American horse race betting.

If you bet a horse to win, it is just as it sounds: a bet that you'll win if the horse finishes first. A place bet returns you money if the horse finishes first, second, or third. The odds will be determined by either the bookmaker or the totes, depending on which system you prefer.

There are also accumulator bets available in all kinds of variations. Accumulator bets require the gambler to hit every one of a combination of wagers to win the bet. Because it is difficult to hit an accumulator bet, at the Epsom Derby or anywhere, the chance for rewards is great even if you only put a small amount down as payment.

Once you know the bets, you can go about strategizing on which horses to choose. In the end, win or lose, you'll likely enjoy the rush of it. And if nothing else, you will have witnessed the Epsom Derby, one of the greatest horse races in the world.

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