Epsom Racecourse is home to Britain’s most prestigious horse race, the Epsom Derby. The first recorded race taking place at the Surrey course dates back to 1661, although it’s believed it began earlier than that, around the 1640s. Because the course is in a public place, people can watch the race free of charge if they decide to observe the action from the Epsom Downs, giving the course a capacity of 130,000 according to British Racecourses.
The racecourse has thrown up its fair share of drama over the years like, what decision was made on the toss of a coin? What put paid to a royal winner? And the near pensioner jockey who would have been well-advised to use the areas local spring to help with his aching limbs.
The Beginnings Of The Famous Derby
The Derby first took place in 1780, won by the English horse, Diomed, but it’s the winning horses’ owner, Sir Charles Bunbury, that stirs up some interest here, along with a very dear friend of his, Lord Derby. In the previous year, Lord Derby got the second of the five English races up to and running, the Oaks, named after the estate located near to Epsom.
The Epsom Derby got its name in a far more straightforward way. The race was co-founded by Lord Derby and politician, Sir Charles Bunbury. But how did the name ‘Derby’ come about? Whether it has any substance or not, some accounts suggest that it was the simple tossing of a coin that gave us the name, and was named after Lord Derby himself after winning the toss. The Bunbury Derby, anyone? It’s more likely Sir Charles gave way to his noble friend, and besides, Sir Charles was honored later having the Newmarket Bunbury Cup named after him.
The Royal Connection
The most esteemed race in British racing, and attended by royalty year on year, the Epsom Derby has seen many horses entered from Kings and Queens since it began. Reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth II has only ever missed two Derbys in the past seven decades and has seen ten horses of hers run in that time, without a single winner. In two hundred and forty years of the Derby taking place, only once has a reigning monarch took the honors in this race of riches.
We have to go back to 1909 when King Edward VI was the proud owner of the winning horse, Minoru, a fate no King or Queen has managed before or since. Edward had previously won the Derby on two occasions in 1896 and 1900, but at the time, he was the Princess of Wales. Sadly, a year after winning the race, the King passed away.
Death At Epsom
King George V may well have added to the royal successes had it not been for the English suffragette Emily Wilding Davison. The activist who was fighting for women votes at the time traveled to Epsom by train with only one thing on her mind. If she wanted to make a statement, she certainly did, and with dire consequences.
Taking up her position at Tattenham Corner, the last turn before the home straight, she waited for some of the horses to pass before she ducked underneath the fence and ran onto the course, grabbing the reigns of King George Vs horse, Anmer. With the horse traveling at a near 35mph, she was never going to walk away unscathed. Emily was hit by the horse and paid the ultimate price. An operation two days later made no difference, and Miss Davison never regained consciousness.
It might be a young person game, but Britsh racing has seen its fair share of the older generation grabbing the headlines. At 49 years old, Mick Kinane rode Sea the Stars to victory in the 2009 Derby, and the Australian jockey Scobie Breasley was even older at 52 when he took the honors with Charlottown in 1966. But it was in 1829 when veteran John Forth went past the winning post ahead of his rivals, at the ripe old age of 60.
The Healing Springs
Standing up or walking around all day at the races can have an adverse effect on those poor feet. So why not grab yourself a bowl of hot water and add a good helping of Epsom salts to relieve those aches and pains. The naturally occurring mineral salt was first produced by boiling mineral waters, which sprung from Epsom. It’s not all about the racing!