Epsom Derby Festival

The two-day Epsom Derby Festival takes place annually at Epsom Downs Racecourse on a Friday and Saturday in early June. The highlight is, of course, the Derby itself – the most valuable race in Britain and, arguably, the most prestigious race in the world – run on the Saturday, but the programme also includes the Oaks, run on the Friday, and the Coronation Stakes.

All three principal races at the Epsom Derby Festival are run over the same course and distance; 1 mile 4 furlongs and 10 yards over the uneven, undulating surface of the Derby course. The Derby course is notoriously testing, rising steadily for the first six furlongs before a steep downhill turn into the straight, at Tattenham Corner, and an uphill climb from the furlong pole to the winning post. The adverse camber in the home straight tends to throw runners towards the inside rail, so trouble in running is not uncommon.

The Derby

The Derby presents an idiosyncratic and tough test for three-year-old colts and fillies and any horse that passes the test earns himself, or herself, a place in racing folklore. That said, the last filly to win the Derby was Fifinella in 1916 and the last filly to run in the race was Cape Verdi in 1998. Winners such as Mill Reef, Sea The Stars, Shergar and Reference Point are listed in the top dozen greatest racehorses since World War II, according to Timeform. The legendary Lester Piggott is the most successful jockey in the history of the Derby with nine wins between 1954 and 1983. One of his nine winners, Nijinksy in 1970, became the last horse to win the 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger, a.k.a. the “Triple Crown”.

The Oaks

The second fillies’ “Classic”, the Oaks, is inevitably overshadowed by the Derby, but is nonetheless an historic, prestigious and valuable race in its own right. In fact, the Oaks was inaugurated in 1779, one year before the Derby. In 2014, the Oaks was run in memory of the late Sir Henry Cecil, who trained eight winners of the Oaks between 1985 and 2007. However, even the erstwhile Master of Warren Place couldn’t match the record of Robert Robson, a.k.a. the “Emperor of Trainers”, who saddled 13 winners between 1802 and 1825.

The Coronation Cup

Although obviously not a Classic, the Coronation Cup is over exactly the same course distance as the Oaks and the Derby. The race is open to older horses of both sexes and, as such, is often contested by horses from the previous Classic generation.

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