The History Of The Derby


By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22) (Updated 1/7/20)

The Derby is the ‘blue ribbon’ race in the whole horse racing calendar. It is the richest horse race ran in Britain and every jockey, trainer, owner and breeder wants to win it. It is officially known as the Investec Derby and the race has been sponsored by Investec since 2009. The Group One race is staged at Epsom racecourse, which is a left-handed track, over one and a half miles. Colts and fillies aged three are eligible to run and fillies have a 3lbs gender allowance. The race is the middle leg of the English Triple Crown- preceded by the 2000 Guineas and followed by the St Leger.

The Derby was created at a celebration of the success of the first running of the Oaks in 1779. It was decided that the race should be named after either the host of the party, the 12th Earl Of Derby, or one of his guests, Sir Charles Bunbury. It is believed that the decision was made by the toss of a coin, which the Earl of Derby won. Sir Charles Bunbury later had a race named after him at Newmarket (The Bunbury Cup).

The first running of the Derby was on Thursday 4th May 1780 and it was won by Diomed, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury. The horse was a successful sire in the USA and was much loved. He died aged 31 in 1808. He is thought to be one of the most important stallions introduced into early American bloodstock. That race and the next three renewals were ran over a mile but the distance was changed to today’s trip of one mile four furlongs in 1784. The starting point of the race has been adjusted twice since then and in the early 1990s, it was discovered that the actual distance of the race was one mile four furlongs and ten yards.

Up until 1838, the race was ran on a Thursday in late May or early June depending on when Easter occurred that year. The day was then changed to a Wednesday in order to fit in with the railway timetables and it was ran on that day until 1995. During the world wars, in between 1915 and 1918 and 1940 and 1945, the Derby was ran at Newmarket as Epsom was used for military operations during those years. In 1967, the way the race was run changed as starting stalls were used for the first time.

In 1996, Alex Greaves became the first female jockey to ride in the Derby. She finished last of the twenty runners riding a filly called Portuguese Lil. Sixteen years later, Hayley Turner became the second female jockey to have a ride in the race. She also came last. In 2017, Aidan O’Brien’s daughter Ana partnered The Anvil in the Derby and was the first female to beat another competitor home. The Anvil and Ana finished seventeenth out of the eighteen runners. Females don’t have a brilliant record in the race and only six fillies have managed to win the Epsom showpiece (Eleanor (1801), Blink Bonny (1857), Shotover (1882), Signorinetta(1908, (who is part of my Wonder Mares Series, which you can read here),  Tagalie (1912) and most recently Fifinella (1916)). Nowadays, fillies are usually kept with their own gender and run in the Oaks instead. The most recent filly in to run in the race was Cape Verdi in 1998. She went off as favourite but could only manage ninth.


One of the most famous winners of the Derby is Shergar. He was partnered to victory by nineteen year old Walter Swinburn and bolted up by ten lengths. After the horse’s victory, he was mysteriously kidnapped without a trace and it is believed that the crime was committed by the IRA. No one knows what happened to him.


Leading Jockey

Lester Piggot- Never Say Die (1954), Crepello (1957), St. Paddy (1960), Sir Ivor (1968), Nijinsky (1970), Roberto (1972), Empery (1976), The Minstrel (1977), Teenoso (1983)

Leading Trainers

Robert Robson- Waxy (1793), Tyrant (1802), Pope (1809), Whalebone (1810), Whisker (1815), Azor (1817), Emilius (1823)

John Porter- Blue Gown (1868), Shotover (1882), St. Blaise (1883), Ormonde (1886), Sainfoin (1890), Common (1891), Flying Fox (1899)

Fred Darling- Captain Cuttle (1922), Manna (1925), Coronach (1926), Cameronian (1931), Bois Roussel (1938), Pont l’Eveque (1940), Owen Tudor (1941)

Aidan O’Brien- Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002), Camelot (2012), Ruler Of The Word (2013), Australia (2014), Wings Of Eagles (2017), Anthony Van Dyck (2019)

Leading Owner

Sue Magnier and Michael Tabor- Galileo (2001), High Chaparral (2002), Pour Moi (2011), Camelot (2012), Ruler Of The World (2013), Australia (2014), Wings of Eagles (2017), Anthony Van Dyck (2019)

Fastest Winning Time- 2m 31.33s by Workforce (2010)

Most runners 34 (1862)

Fewest Runners- 4 (1794)

Longest Odds Winner- Jeddah (1898), Signorietta(1908) and Aboyeur (1913) at 100/1

Shortest Odds Winner- Ladas at 2/9 (1894)

Widest Winning Margin- ten lengths by Shergar (1981)



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