What is the Derby?

In Britain, the Derby or, officially, the Derby Stakes, is a Group 1 race, run annually on the first Saturday in June, over an extended mile and a half at Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, South East England. Open to three-year-old colts and fillies, but not geldings, the Derby is, in fact, the penultimate of the five British ‘Classic’ races, following the 2,000 and 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket in early May and the Oaks, over the same course and distance the previous day, and ahead of the St. Leger at Doncaster in September. Indeed, along with the 2,000 Guineas and the St. Leger, the Derby forms part of the so-called ‘Triple Crown’, although the last horse to win all three races was Nijinsky back in 1970.

The Derby has a long, rich history stretching back to 1780, when it was co-founded by Edward Smith-Stanley, Twelfth Earl of Derby, and Sir Charles Bunbury and named after the former. It has long since become the most prestigious Flat race run in Britain and, arguably, anywhere in the world. At the time of writing, connections of the most recent Derby winner, Auguste Rodin, collected nearly £886,000 in prize money, such that the ‘Blue Riband’ remains, fittingly, the most valuable race on the British Flat racing calendar.

Unsurprisingly, the roll of honour for the Derby reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of three-year-old middle-distance talent down the centuries. Nijinsky aside, other notable winners include Sea Bird, Mill Reef, Shergar, Dancing Brave and Sea The Stars, to name but a handful.