From Suffragettes to Shergar: Why the Epsom Derby is Too Good to Miss

Theresa MayDing dong the witch’s dead: okay, that’s a horrible way to say it, but yes Theresa May has finally announced her resignation as Prime Minister.

She will formally reveal her exit date in June, and is expected to carry on as the head of 10 Downing Street until the Conservative Party leadership race is concluded.

That will be a ghastly affair with the likes of Boris, Gove and Hunt all in the running, and so everyone is best advised to ignore that carousel of goons and instead focus on the more important things in life!…

Time for Some Classic Racing

One such occasion that will be evidently more entertaining is the Epsom Derby, and that will unfold on Saturday at roughly 4:30pm GMT on the famous Epsom Downs.

This is arguably the most prestigious of the British Classics, and as a race available to three-year-old colts and fillies only there is that sense of this being the only shot at glory for the vast majority in the field.

The winner, who will have to show pace and stamina in equal measure across the undulating 1m 4f track, will pocket a cheque for their connections of a cool £850,000, which will help to pay for plenty of celebratory carrots and polo mints. A place in flat racing’s history books is also a handy aside.

Epsom Derby

Credit: Monkeywin (flickr)

The Derby is a race that dates back to 1780, and so there is no shortage of Derby history to sift through. From barnstorming runs on the track to bizarre goings on off it, there’s more than two centuries worth of Derby action to enjoy.

Here are some of the most notable moments in Epsom Derby history:

In the Beginning…Heads or Tails

Amazingly, people used to have house parties even back in the eighteenth century.

Although the days of lukewarm Fosters and drum ‘n bass music were still to come, it was at one such soiree where the seeds of the Epsom Derby were sewn back in 1780.

It was decided that a landmark race for both colts and fillies to compete against one another was required, but what to call it? The Earl of Derby and Sir Charles Bunbury, who headed the Jockey Club, had their own ideas.

Both wanted to name this new race after themselves, modestly, with the Derby Stakes and the Bunbury Stakes both on the very short shortlist.

In the end, the bright idea to toss a coin to decide was made. ‘Heads’ called the Earl of Derby. The rest, as they say, is history.

Fight for Your Right

The Epsom Derby has occasionally appeared on the front page of the newspapers, as well as the back.

One of the most important came back in 1913, when the Suffragette activist Emily Davidson sadly lost her life.

This was at a time when women didn’t have the right to vote or even achieve a degree, and Davidson’s activism – under the tutelage of Emmeline Pankhurst – saw her serve seven different prison sentences.

Her most public of acts saw her run onto the track as the Epsom Derby was taking place. Unfortunately, Davidson was struck by a horse and left fatally injured, passing away a few days later.

It was a day that the Derby became worldwide news, and also ensured that women’s rights were elevated to the national conscience.

A Sad End for One of the Best

ShergarIn the end, Shergar became best known for being the horse that was kidnapped from the Ballymany Stud, and the subject of a £2 million ransom demand.

His body has never been found, with various groups – including the IRA – suspected by various sources to be guilty of the heinous act.

Instead, let’s remember Shergar for his finest day on the racetrack: winning the 1981 Derby by some ten lengths; the most dominant margin of victory in the modern era.

p>He went on to win the Irish Derby and the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, before being retired in Ireland shortly after.

Carson Caps Bad Day for the Bookies

For a split second, the 1989 Derby looked set to be an absolute monster for the bookmakers.

The 500/1 shot Terimon was in the thick of the action, and had a real chance heading into the final straight – just imagine the profit the bookies would have turned that day.

In the end, Willie Carson saved the day for the humble punter aboard Nashwan, who charged to the line in sublime fashion.

It was little Willie’s third Derby winner, and ensured that the Christmas bonus of bookmaker employees up and down the land was kept to a minimum.

Finally Frankie

Frankie Dettori

Credit: frielp (flickr)

It took 14 years for Frankie Dettori, one of the best flat jockeys in history, to finally land his first Derby victory.

That came aboard Authorized, a brilliant horse who also claimed the Dante Stakes in a stellar career.

The stallion went on to win by five lengths, but Dettori has admitted there were some nerves as he closed in for home.

“I remember turning into the straight, and that green strip looked so narrow, it looks like a runway, with the crowds beside it. I took my time, rode past everyone slowly, one by one, and then I knew I’d won,” he said afterwards.

“I didn’t really enjoy it at the time, it was more of a relief – and it was one of the pinnacles of my career as it meant I’d won every classic.”