The historic Epsom Derby Day is a sporting event like no other


All human life descends on Epsom for the Cazoo Derby – with a history dating back 241 years, it’s still racing’s greatest prize.

By James Toney in Epsom

There’s nothing quite like Derby Day, a quintessentially British occasion of pomp and circumstance with outfits straight from the pages of Bridgerton.

He brings rollers and double deckers, princes and plasterers, queens, both royal and Pearlie, to this verdant flash of the tumultuous Surrey countryside.

It’s a race you can only win once, a race that has marked the history of its sport for 241 years, the ultimate test of equine excellence with many global imitations but no true equal.

In sport there’s always another chance to redeem yourself for missing a shot – but not in the Derby, open only to three-year-old colts and requiring the perfect alchemy of speed, stamina and skill. balance to tackle the undulating cambers of this most unique racecourse on the outskirts of London.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot at sporting immortality and to paraphrase a famous quote, the thoroughbred only exists because of a piece of wood: the winning post at Epsom.

Here you will find all human life, the great, the good and the less good. There are Lords, Ladys and Lags, A-listers and Z-listers, Hollywood and Love Island stars, some of the seemingly fake ones sprayed the exact color of their favorite chestnut gelding.

For years it was the East End’s big day, they rolled down the barrels kneeling down the crowded Epsom Hill – a place where really it all happens – then rolled, or sometimes crawled, home .

But for two years, the People’s Race has lost its greatest asset: its people. In 2020, a ring of steel was even thrown around the Downs to keep their noses pressed against the fence.

“I couldn’t hear anything around me,” recalls jockey Emmet McNamara. “All I could hear was the horse’s breathing.”

On Saturday you won’t be able to hear yourself thinking, not to mention the thundering hooves as they spin around the Tattenham Corner hairpin on a descent to the finish line, for the winning jockey, a race dizzying ride on the biggest roller coaster in racing.

Legends are made here and there are also many great stories among the well-bred bloodlines of the 17 horses that will go to post at 4:30 p.m.

Sir Michael Stoute won his first Derby 41 years ago with the legendary Shergar, a horse whose stunning ten-length victory was overshadowed by his tragic and mysterious kidnapping, one of the sport’s great unsolved stories.

He will seek the sixth Derby win with a lightly run favorite king of the desert while Aidan O’Brien – fresh off winning a record 41st English Classic – looks to the Oaks-Derby double for the fourth time with three Irish raiders, Stone Age, Changing of the guard and Star of India.

“The thoroughbred breed is based on the Epsom Derby, it’s the ultimate test of the racehorse,” said O’Brien, who claims a record eight race wins. “It’s physical and mental, they have to make the journey, they have to have the rhythm, they have to act on the track.

“This race is just the ultimate test, it’s a single track that goes up, down, left and right, it just defines our sport and the vibe is like nowhere else. All of those things add up and you need a very, very special horse to win it.

“It’s intense racing here, it’s a test of temperament for everyone, horses, jockeys, trainers and spectators. As soon as you get to Epsom people are all over you – even riding to the start is intense, there’s nothing quite like it.”

The Cazoo Derby is a centerpiece of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, but the Queen is watching her favorite <a class=sporting event at home, only the third race she has missed in her reign (Reuters/Beat Media Group subscription)” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MA–/”/>

The Cazoo Derby is a centerpiece of Platinum Jubilee celebrations, but the Queen is watching her favorite sporting event at home, only the third race she has missed in her reign (Reuters/Beat Media Group subscription)

You know you’ve achieved a special place in sports folklore when you’re known by just one name, but Frankie (Dettori) has won just two Derbys in 26 starts to date, a note of caution for those who still love support him blindly.

However, he has a decent outside chance on Piz Badile, who is coached by Aidan’s son Donnacha, who is looking to become the youngest coach to win flat racing’s most coveted prize.

Charlie Appleby is the race’s in-form coach and also draws three in the race with the impressive Nations Pride his pick.

It’s not uncommon for underdogs to upset odds, Aboyeur won at 100-1 odds in 1913 and Wings of Eagles came home at 40-1 five years ago, having never won a race before.

So how about Sonny Liston give jockey Tom Marquand a knockout blow at big odds, despite finishing in the top three in his trial run?

“Rain won’t worry him,” said trainer Charlie Hills, with steady rain greeting the first to the track. “He’s got a handy draw next to the favorite and I think he’s going to stay the trip well.”

And for those who like to choose names how about Royal patronage platinum jubilee weekend? However, a draw – there have only been three winners of this spot in the past 55 years – can be off-putting.

But two of the Derby’s biggest stars of the day are conspicuous by their absence on Saturday.

It remains a centerpiece of her Platinum Jubilee celebrations, but the Queen will be watching at home in Windsor. It’s a race in which her knowledge is so encyclopedic that it’s said she can remember all the victors from her decades on the throne, whether the same can be said of her 14 prime ministers is less clear.

Before the pandemic, she had only missed the race twice in 70 years and next year it will be seven decades since her horse Aureole came second, just days after her coronation.

In Kings sport, Lester Piggott has worn the crown, winning that race a record nine times, first as a teenager and 29 years later at the age of 57.

The Derby made him a man, then a legend and the trainer, horse and jockey who won him on Saturday will stand on the slender shoulders of his greatness.


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