The (Investec) Epsom Derby, also known as the English Derby, is the middle jewel of the English Triple Crown. The 2016 running is Saturday, June 4 at 16:30 PM BST (11:30 AM EST in the USA).
Epsom Downs, the site where the race is run, bills it as “the greatest flat race in the world.” While this claim is debatable, the English Derby is 95 years older than the Kentucky Derby and is steeped in colorful history.
The inaugural English Derby was run on May 4, 1780. Oral history has it that the 12th Earl of Derby and Jockey Club president Sir Charles Bunbury used a coin spin to decide whether the name of the race would be the Derby Stakes or the Bunbury Stakes. Had Bunbury won, we would likely be referring today to the English Bunbury and the Kentucky Bunbury. Bunbury’s consolation prize was that his colt Diomed won the first English Derby at a mile. In 1784, the distance was expanded to 1 ½ miles where it remains today.
The English Derby in its early days was a venue where people from all walks of life gathered. The aristocrats were there along with the hoi polloi. Gamblers played various games of chance and bare-knuckle fighters participated in illegal matches on the racecourse grounds.
The Derby has seen everything from dead heats to suffragette Emily Davison running onto the track during the race in the 1913 Derby. She grabbed the bridle of King George V’s Anmer, who went down but hurdled into Davison in the process. Several days later, Davison died of her injuries, and became an inspiration to women seeking the right to vote.
Some of the greatest horses, jockeys, and trainers have won the English Derby. Lester Piggott stands out among jockeys with an incredible nine wins and Aidan O’Brien trained three consecutive winners (2012-2014). For sheer tragedy, there is Shergar, the 1981 winner. He was kidnapped from his stable in County Kildare, Ireland, reportedly by members of the Irish Republican Army for ransom, who ended up killing him.
The Epsom Derby is an elegant event, run over a verdant turf on a left-handed and undulating racecourse that held its first race in 1661. It is the place where Sea Bird, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Galileo, and other champions gained everlasting fame. The 2016 winning owner will receive the trophy from Queen Elizabeth II and join a long and illustrious list.
The co-favorites in the 18-horse field are the Aidan O’Brien-trained US Army Ranger and the John Gosden-trained Wings of Desire at about 4/1 or 7/2 odds. Next come Cloth of Stars and Ulysses at 7/1. If you like longshots, you might want to bet on Humphrey Bogart.
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