The Epsom Derby is a prestigious British horse race run on the flat at Epsom Downs, in County Surrey. The Derby is the second race in the British Triple Crown, and it is considered one of the British Classic Races. Derby weekend is a big event in Surrey, because thousands of spectators descend upon the racecourse for the races and other Epsom Derby events, including high profile members of society such as the ruling monarch of England.
Epsom Downs has been a site of horse racing and informal meets for several hundred years. In 1779, Edward Smith Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, established a race called the Epsom Oaks, which was run by fillies on the flat. The race turned out to be hugely successful, and in the next year, the first Epsom Derby was run. The Epsom Derby is open to both colts and fillies, and it has been won by six fillies in its history.
Entrance in the Epsom Derby is restricted to three year old horses, who are by convention considered the cream of the crop. Horses which win the Epsom Derby can command high prices at stud, since the race has so much social and cultural significance, and it is a challenging, grueling course which demands a great deal of the equine athletes who compete in it. By tradition, the Epsom Derby is run over one and a half miles, a distance which is sometimes called the “Derby Distance” in a reference to the Epsom Derby itself.
By tradition, the Epsom Derby is held on the first weekend in June, as part of the Derby Festival. Other races including the Epsom Oaks are run during the festival weekend, which also includes receptions, dinners, dances, and other events. Some festival events are open to the public, while others require tickets or invitations for attendance. Likewise, any member of the public may attend the Epsom Derby, although tickets for good seats can be hard to come by.
Around the world, other prestigious races are named for the Epsom Derby, probably in the hopes of building positive associations. In the United States, for example, horses compete in the Kentucky Derby, and fillies may also compete in the Kentucky Oaks, which is traditionally held on the day before the Derby. The Kentucky Derby, however, is not held over the traditional Derby Distance; instead, this distance is reserved for the Belmont Stakes, another race in the American Triple Crown.