Epsom Downs Racecourse, Epsom Downs, Surrey, KT18 5LQ
Tel: 01372 726 311
Epsom Downs Racecourse is the home of one of the most iconic events in the British sporting and social calendar – the Derby Festival. The two day festival of horse racing dates back to 1780.
The town of Epsom 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 1780 when one of today’s greatest sporting spectacles was established.
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 Oaks after his estate. The race became so successful that the following year a new race was added for colts and fillies.
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.
In 1913 suffragette Emily Davison threw herself in front of King George V’s horse Anmer, bringing him down. Davison’s skull was fractured and she died four days later.