Epsom Derby Festival Betting Tips – 31st May & 1st June 2019

The big races on the calendar are coming thick and fast and next up we head to one of the most famous tracks in world racing as Epsom plays host to its annual Derby Meeting. It is only two days long so this event may not have quite the quantity of many of the other major racing festivals of the year, but it certainly doesn’t lack in quality, and when it comes to influence on the sport, it is simply unsurpassed.

It is the two classic events of the Oaks and the Derby itself which of course take centre stage, but we do have 12 other contests on offer for our punting pleasure, including a whole host of handicapping action, and one of the very best races of the season for the most talented older performers still in training.

About Epsom's Derby Festival

Sign at Epsom Downs Racecourse

The market town of Epsom in Surrey is just shy of fourteen miles away from London is predominantly known for two things: being the home of Epsom salts and being the location of Epsom Downs Racecourse. With a population of just over thirty-one thousand people according to the 2011 census, many of whom will be commuters to the nation’s capital, it’s an unlikely place to be the centre of a sporting behemoth. Yet that’s exactly what it is every June when the Epsom Derby festival of racing takes place.

The Derby itself is obviously the feature race, having become synonymous the world over with great horse racing. From the Kentucky Derby in America via Germany’s Deutsches Derby and the Tokyo Yushun in Japan, the Derby is one of the most influential races in the history of the sport. It joins the St Leger and the 2,000 Guineas in forming part of the Triple Crown of flat racing, though few owners actually try to win all three because of how much it asks of their horses. As you’ll see here, though, the event is about so much more than just the Derby, with a number of hugely important races, such as the Oaks, to be run over the course of the meeting.

About the Derby Meeting

Crowd at Epsom on Derby Day
Photo © Malc McDonald (cc-by-sa/2.0) (Image Cropped)

It’s worth giving a brief history of the meeting to help explain why it’s considered to be so important in the horse racing calendar. Despite being the more prestigious of the two races, it wasn’t actually the Derby that was run first. That honour went to the Oaks, which occurred for the first time in 1779 and was such a success that a new race was created to be named after the man who had hosted the event, the 12th Earl of Derby. The first running of this new race took place on the 4th of May the following year, being run on a Thursday from then on.

The race was moved to a Wednesday to help with railway timetables, always fitting in with Easter. Part of the reason for its mid-week running was that the racing at Epsom proved to be exceptionally popular with Londoners, who would make the journey to the Surrey town in order to enjoy the racing and the entertainment that went alongside it. Indeed, during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Parliament would be adjourned in order to allow MPs to head along to the racing.

’Derby Day’ became an important event in the social calendar, receiving visitors such as Charles Dickens and having paintings done of it by the likes of William Powell Frith. The work he did in 1858, entitled ‘The Derby Day’, is notable for the fact that the racing was in the background and the entertainment took centre-stage. As the twentieth century wore on, however, Epsom became less popular and the racing was moved to Saturday in 1955 in order to try to and reclaim the crowds. It has remained there ever since, though the event that at one time took place over ten days to four, then three and now two.

Epsom Derby Festival Race List

There can be no question that it is the racing that takes centre-stage nowadays. Whilst the usual racecourse entertainment can be found around the place, the attendees know that they are there for the horses above all else. There many only be two days of racing in the modern era, but that means that there is no need for lesser races to be put in to fill gaps in the schedule.

Day One of the meeting is Ladies’ Day, when the frocks off the course are almost as delightful as the racing taking place on it. It’s also the day that the Oaks is run, meaning that it’s every bit as important in the world of racing as Day Two.

Derby Day comes on Day Two and as you’ll no doubt have noticed, the event is sponsored by Investec with many of the races baring the company’s name.

RacePrize MoneyAges
Day One – Ladies Day
Woodcote Stakes £60,000 2 Years Old (EBF Eligible)
Ivestec Mile Handicap £50,000 4 Years Old +
Coronation Cup £444,750 4 Years Old +
Investec Handicap £60,000 4 Years Old +
Epsom Oaks £523,750 3 Year Old Fillies
Surrey Stakes £50,000 3 Years Old
Zebra Handicap £50,000 3 Years Old +
Day Two – Derby Day
Private Banking Handicap £50,000 3 Years Old
Princess Elizabeth Stakes £90,000 3 Years Old +
Diomed Stakes £90,000 3 Years Old +
Epsom Dash Handicap £100,000 3 Years Old +
Epsom Derby £1,623,900 3 Years Old
Out Of The Ordinary Handicap £50,000 4 Years Old +
Asset Management Handicap £50,000 4 Years Old +

The Epsom Derby Festival Races in Detail

Now that we’ve had a look at the race cards for the meeting it’s worth having a closer look at the races themselves. Whilst the meeting at Epsom is filled with top-class events, it goes without saying that there’s more to tell you about some of them than others.

We’ll start by exploring the two biggest races of the meeting and then move on to the rest of the most noteworthy events that take place over the two days.

Given that the Derby is the event that the entire weekend is named after, it’s no major surprise that it’s also considered to be the most prestigious race of the meeting. That’s not to damn the Oaks, however, which is just as important in its own way.

The Derby

Let’s start with the big one, then. The Earls of Derby, the The Stanley family, had long had an association with horse racing. When the Seventh Earl of Derby, James Stanley, gained the Lordship of Mann in 1627 he decided to introduced the racing of horses onto the Isle of Man’s Langness Peninsula. He even donated a cup to one of the races that became known as the Manx Derby.

Fast-forward to 1779 and the success of that year’s new race, the Oaks Stakes, meant that those in attendance at Epsom felt that another race should be inaugurated the following year. James Stanley’s relative and the now twelfth Earl of Derby was the host of the event, so it was decided that this new race should be named after him. Legend dictates that the decision for the naming was decided by the toss of a coin, but it’s far more likely that Sir Charles Bunbury, the other possible name-giver and Steward of the Jockey Club, will have deferred to the Earl instead.

The first race was run in 1780 over one mile, but in 1784 this was extended to a mile and a half. Despite being the person the event was named after, the Earl himself didn’t see one of his horses win until 1787 when Sir Peter Teazle took the honour. Over the years that followed the race developed and changed, with the starting point being moved twice for various reasons. When the Derby took place was also a moveable feast, constantly being shifted according to when Easter was. Between 1900 and 1995 it was run on the first Wednesday of June apart from during the two World Wars.

The Derby’s link to Epsom Racecourse is absolute, having been run on the course every year of its existence with the exception of during the First and Second World Wars. During this time it took place at Newmarket and was known as the New Derby. As mentioned in the introduction, the Derby is one of the most inspiring races in the industry in terms of other locations doing their own version of it. Whilst the Kentucky Derby in America is probably the most famous example of this, others include the Prix du Jockey Club, the New Zealand Derby and the Derby Italiano.

Run left-handed over one mile, four furlongs and six yards, the derby is open to three-year-olds apart from geldings. The weight is nine stone, with fillies receiving a three pound allowance. In 2018 the prize money for the race was £1.5 million, with £850,650 of that going to the winner. Lester Piggott won the event nine times between 1954 and 1983, making him the race’s most successful jockey. Three trainers share the honour of seven Derby wins apiece, namely Robert Robson, John Porter and Fred Darling.

The Oaks

The Oaks differs to the Derby in numerous ways, but unquestionably the most telling is that it is only open to fillies aged three. One of the Classics off British racing, only the St Leger is older than it. The race is named after a local estate that the twelfth Earl of Derby leased during the eighteenth century. It was on this estate that the idea for the race was conceived in 1878, being run for the first time the following year.

The inaugural running of the Oaks was won by a horse owned by the Earl himself, Bridget. That is in stark contrast to the Derby, with the Earl having to wait seven years until he had a winner. Run under the title of the Oakes Stakes, the race would go on to become on of the most important races for three-year-olds in the British horse racing calendar. Other races were soon added to the Oaks and the St Leger as being exclusive to that age group, becoming known as the Classics.

Initially horses were asked to carry eight stone and four pounds, being knocked down to eight stone before increased to nine stone by 1892. As with the Derby, the race’s link to Epsom is inextricable to the point that many people actually refer to is as the Epsom Oaks, though that’s not its official title. Horses that win the 1,000 Guineas and the St Leger either side of the Oaks are said to have won the Fillies' Triple Crown. As with the Triple Crown for male horses, though, this is actually rarely tried because of how much it asks of the participants.

Much like the Derby, the Oaks has inspired similar races around the world. The following are the best examples of this:

  • Irish Oaks (Curragh Racecourse, Ireland)
  • Preis der Diana (Düsseldorf Racecourse, Germany)
  • Prix de Diane (Chantilly Racecourse, France)
  • Oaks d’Italia (San Siro Racecourse, Italy)
  • Australian Oaks (Randwick Racecourse, Australia)
  • New Zealand Oaks (Trentham, New Zealand)
  • Yushun Himba (Tokyo Racecourse, Japan)

During the First and Second World Wars the racing could not take place at Epsom Downs, so it was moved to Newmarket and given the moniker of the New Oaks Stakes. Another name alteration would come in 2014 when the name of Is Henry Cecil was added in honour of the man who had trained eight Oaks winners from 1985 to 2007 and had died the previous year.

Run left-handed over one mile, four furlongs and six yards, the race sees three-year-old fillies carry nine stone. It was worth £500,000 in 2018, of which £283,550 went to the winner.

The Coronation Cup

As mentioned, the Derby and the Oaks are without question the two most prestigious races of the meeting, but they’re not the only ones worthy of your attention.

Established to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, the Coronation Cup was moved to Newmarket during the First World War and part of the Second World War, as well as Newbury in 1941. There was an event called the Epsom Gold Cup that had been run at the racecourse since 1810 that was open to horses aged three and up, but the Coronation Cup superseded it.

Run left-handed over one mile, four furlongs and six yards, the race is for horses aged four and over. The weight is nine stone, with fillies and mares given a three pound allowance. St Nicholas Abbey won consecutive races between 2011 and 2013 to establish himself as the race’s most successful horse to date. As with so many other flat races around the country, the event’s most successful jockey remains Lester Piggott, who won it nine times between 1953 and 1983.

The Woodcote Stakes

This conditions flat race is open to two-year-olds and is run left-handed over six furlongs and three yards. It’s weight is nine stone, with fillies receiving a five pound allowance. It was first run as the Woodcot Stakes in 1794 and took place over Epsom Downs Racecourse’s final half mile. Colts were asked to carry eight stone and fillies seven stone one pound. It stopped taking place in 1800, returning in 1807 and being run over the racecourse’s final six furlongs instead.

Upon its return the weight requirements had changed, with colts now carrying eight stone three pounds and fillies eight stone dead. In 1808 the race was shortened to half a mile but the weight was increased by two pounds, shifting two pounds heavier again in 1812. The weights and distance continued to alter, not least of all in 1839 when the race itself was moved to the new two-year-old course and the distance returned to six furlongs accordingly.

When the current grading of racing was introduced the Woodcote Stakes was given Listed status, but it was downgraded in 2017 and has been run as a Conditions event since. Obviously no horse has won the race more than once, given that it’s only open to two-year-olds, but many jockeys have raced home in first place on numerous occasions. Michael Kinane is the most successful of the recent era, winning three times between 1996 and 1999. Interestingly, the 2017 winner, De Bruyne Horse, was later disqualified after testing positive for a banned substance.

The Surrey Stakes

A Listed race, the Surrey Stakes is open to three-year-olds. It’s raced over seven furlongs and three yards and was established in 1995. Back then it was known as the Vodacom Conditions Stakes, receiving its current moniker in 1998, which is also when it was Listed.

Between its establishment in 1995 and 2018, no fewer than seven jockeys won the race twice. These were:

  • Frankie Dettori
  • Jimmy Fortune
  • Kieren Fallon
  • Pat Eddery
  • Richard Hughes
  • Ryan Moore
  • Silvestre de Sousa

The Princess Elizabeth Stakes

Open to fillies and mares aged three and over, this race is run left-handed over one mile and one hundred and thirteen yards. The weight information is as follows:

  • 3-year-olds: 8 stone, 8 pounds
  • 4-year-olds and over: 9 stone 6 pounds
  • Group 1 winners: 7 pound penalty
  • Group 2 winners: 5 pound penalty
  • Group 3 winners: 3 pound penalty

A race known as the Princess Elizabeth Stakes was run at Epsom Downs Racecourse in April, being restricted to three-year-olds and seen as a trial for the Oaks. It was a Group 3 offering until it was downgraded to be Listed before finally being loved to Kempton Park in 1991. It was discontinued the following year, with a new race being created in 1995 at Epsom.

That new race was given the moniker of the Princess Elizabeth Stakes in 2001, gaining promotion to Group 3 after having been a Listed race previously. Three horses have won the race twice: Echelon in 2006 and 2007, Antara in 2010 and 2011 and Thistle Bird in 2013 and 2014. Despite only being the jockey on the back of Antara’s two wins, Frankie Dettori is the race’s most successful rider thanks in no small part to the six wins he gained between 1999 and 2018.

The Diomed Stakes

Inaugurated in 1971, the Diomed Stakes is a Group 3 race open to horses aged three and over. It is run over one mile and one hundred and thirteen yards and takes place left-handed. The following weight information is in place:

  • 3-year-olds: 8 stone 8 pounds
  • 4-year-olds and over: 9 stone 6 pounds
  • Fillies & mares receive a 3 pound allowance
  • Group 1 winners: 7 pound penalty
  • Group 2 winners: 5 pound penalty
  • Group 3 winners: 3 pound penalty

The race was named in honour of the first ever winner of the Derby, Diomed. Whilst it was officially raced for the first time in 1971, many consider that it is really just a continuation of another race that had taken place at the racecourse until then, the St James Stakes. At the time of writing, three horses have enjoyed two wins of the race: All Friends (1975 and 1976), Nayyir (2002 and 2006) and Blythe Knight (2007 and 2008).

Flat racing fans will be unsurprised to see the name of Lester Piggott as the race’s most successful jockey, with his four wins coming between 1971 and 1984.