Everything You Need To Know About Epsom Racecourse
Last updated & tested: 2019-11-30
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Horse racing at Epsom Downs dates back to the Seventeenth Century with the first recorded race taking place following the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1661. One Epsom horse race in particular is known the world over and this Flat only, undulating, sharp left-handed track is home to the Investec Derby Festival. At the centrepiece of this two-day event is the premier British Classic, the Epsom Derby – the richest thoroughbred race in the country.
We’ll have more on that to follow, but among the other great Epsom races is another Group 1 contest – The Oaks – which is the over same course and distance but for fillies only. That is the main event on Epsom Ladies Day and takes place 24 before The Derby. This will sound harsh, but it’s true. All other Epsom racecourse events pale in comparison to those two days in early June when the elite three-year-olds contest the Classics. There are many other meetings held at Epsom racecourse throughout the course of the Flat season, most notably in April when there is a trial run for Derby and Oaks hopefuls, but the action pales in comparison. We’ll look at these two meetings in more detail below.
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More on those main Epsom racecourse events to bet on
This racetrack in Surrey is far from alone in being best known for just one major meeting. To make a brief comparison to the jumps, The Derby Festival is little different from the one held at Cheltenham in March or the Grand National at Aintree come April. One Epsom horse race mattering more than all is the others is just like the Cheltenham Gold Cup in National Hunt. The Oaks and Epsom Derby are prizes every thoroughbred owners wants to win. Let’s take a look in more detail at the April meeting first and then those two days in June when Classic glory is up for grabs.
A Blue Riband Trial appeals in April
Horses with Oaks or Derby hopes can get a prep run at the course, if not quite the distance in a Listed race over 1m 2f. This is called the Blue Riband Trial, but don’t let the name fool you. There are other arguably far better trials for The Oaks or Derby elsewhere, as just one colt has gone on to land the premier Classic – Blue Peter in 1939 – having prepared for it at Epsom. John Gosden is the most successful trainer in this race of late, saddling six winners including four on the bounce between 2015 and 2018.
Supporting this not so Blue Riband Trial on the April meeting card are a couple of handicaps for older horses. The Grand Metropolitan Handicap was first run in 1846 and used to be a real stayers’ event over 2m 2f, but has since been reduced in distance to the same 1m 4f trip as The Oaks and Derby. This Epsom horse race has its place in sporting history assured, however, as it was the 1947 renewal was the first-ever to use a photo-finish camera to separate first and second place. The City And Suburban Handicap, meanwhile, was introduced in the early 1850s and is over a slightly shorter trip of 1m 2f.
Fillies to the fore on Epsom Ladies Day in The Oaks
Ladies Day – the first Friday in June – is about fashion off the track and fillies on it. Day one of the Investec Derby Festival builds to The Oaks with the Woodcote Stakes kicking things off. This used to be a Listed contest but has been downgraded recently to a conditions race for juveniles over 6f and dates back to the 1790s.
The first Group 1 race of the meeting isn’t a Classic, but the Coronation Cup over The Oaks and Derby trip over 1m 4f that is open to horses aged four and over. This gives thoroughbreds that stay in training beyond their three-year-old campaign another chance to race on this unique track. First run in 1902, the Coronation Cup in effect replaced the old Epsom Gold Cup and many greats have landed the spoils.
Pretty Polly won back-to-back renewals in 1905 and 1906; while Solario (1926), Mill Reef (1972) and Yeats (2005) are other greats that appear on its roll of honour. The Coronation Cup is synonymous in modern times with the mighty St Nicholas Abbey, however, who won it three times in a row between 2011 and 2013. Irish master trainer Aidan O’Brien has enjoyed most success in this recently with eight victories in 13 runnings between 2005 and 2017.
And so to The Oaks itself. Only the very best three-year-old fillies in training run here and it’s the second leg of the fairer sex’s Triple Crown – a rarely attempted feat with this being the middle race between the 1000 Guineas and the St Leger. Since 1779, the ladies have tackled the undulations of Epsom in a bid to land this Classic contest. Looking back through the list of Oaks winners reads like a who’s who of subsequent brilliant broodmares.
From early Twentieth Century heroines like Sceptre (1902) and Pretty Polly (1904) to the likes of Rockfel (1938), Sun Chariot (1942), Musidora (1949), Meld (1955) and Sweet Solera (1961), many of these fabulous fillies have had races named in their honour because of what they did on the Downs here. Modern greats Oh So Sharp (1985), Snow Fairy (2010) and Enable (2017) left their indelible mark on The Oaks too, the latter setting a new course record en route to victory.
There are some handicaps over various distances as well on Epsom Ladies Day, but the final main supporting race is a Listed contest – the Surrey Stakes over 7f that’s also for three-year-olds only. While this may lack the history and prestige of other events across the Derby Festival, it was won in 2011 by then reigning European champion juvenile filly Hooray.
Epsom Derby day is always memorable
Did you know The Derby used to be run on a Wednesday? And before that the last Thursday in May or the first in June depending on when Easter fell. Well, since 1995 it’s always been the first Saturday of June and dates way back to 1780. Although predominantly contested by three-year-old colts, fillies too are allowed to enter but only six in history have ever won it.
As British horse racing’s most valuable event, The Derby is the crowning glory of most winners. Colts can try the Triple Crown and, while it’s common to see the 2000 Guineas hero to go and score at Epsom, doing the third leg by capturing the St Leger at Doncaster is seldom even tried these days. Nijinsky (1970) was the last horse to do it about 50 years ago. He is one of many legends to have delivered in The Derby alongside modern greats like Mill Reef (1971), Shergar (1981), Galileo (2001), Sea The Stars (2009) and Camelot (2012).
Supporting the big one during the Investec Derby Festival are a couple of Group 3 races and the Flat sprint handicap, the Epsom Dash over 5f. That latter race was won three times by the mighty Caspian Prince in 2014, 2016 and 2017. The Princess Elizabeth Stakes, meanwhile, is an extended mile event for fillies aged three and up. Frankie Dettori is the most successful jockey here with six victories. And the Diomed Stakes, named after the first-ever Derby winner, is over the same trip and open to all horse that are three-year-olds plus. William Buick has ridden three winners in this event since 2010.
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Who is the best bookie when you want to bet on Epsom races?
Getting bets on couldn’t be easier nowadays but, with so much choice out there online, it’s difficult to know whether or not there’s one bookie in particular that does the events at Epsom racecourse especially well. If you’re wagering on The Oaks or Derby, or even one of the supporting races on the card, then OpenOdds are happy to recommend William Hill to punters.
This is because, besides getting the best odds guaranteed on all UK and Irish horse racing as standard, you qualify for daily bet boosts and can even get one per race if they are broadcast on terrestrial TV. This is due to the fact that William Hill are the official betting partners of ITV Racing. They also run another offer; 2 Clear where you receive bonuses if the horse you back wins any televised Flat race (containing a minimum number of runners) by two lengths or more. It’s also fairly common to see William Hill pay extra places on a selected handicap every day and that means there’s even better value to be had betting each-way. They make a really great choice to bet with for the Derby Festival and indeed any of the horse racing galas either on the Flat or over jumps.
All the Epsom horse race betting tips you need
If you want to know which horses are fancied for the Epsom Derby or The Oaks, then there’s a wealth of betting tips out there. How do you know the ones you’re reading are reliable? Well, if you’re on this page, then that means you’re looking at OpenOdds tipsters’ picks. We employ horse racing experts who have spent many years loving this great sport and writing betting tips, so all that experience is behind them and you. Given the hotly competitive nature of some Epsom races like the Classics, Dash and Coronation Cup, there are going to be dangers. That’s why our tipsters don’t just put up one horse, but three.
While the first is their main selection – the best value bet on the horse with what is felt to be the biggest chance of winning – the main opposition is also identified. Sometimes our experts are for a betting favourite and on other occasions see value and reasons to take them on. There are always going to be dark horses in The Derby and big field handicaps ran at Epsom, so looking at these races from an each-way angle is also important. Which thoroughbreds look like they can outrun their larger odds and make the frame? We’ve got that angle covered. All our recommended punts have the best prices and where to find them quoted at the time of writing, as well as how risky the bets are assessed on a scale of one to 10. Remember, all odds are subject to fluctuation.
Tips for races at Epsom
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Some expert advice to consider before betting at Epsom racecourse
You know by now what the main Epsom racecourse events are and what their significance is in the world of horse racing. There’s a ton of prestige that comes with being a Derby or Oaks winner with the winning colts and fillies going on to have stud and broodmare lives after their racing is done. Bookmakers like nothing better than giving long-term ante post quotes about these Classic contests and you can keep across all the latest news right here. We take a betting first approach to this at OpenOdds. Whether it’s the latest weights, entries or other announcements, our experts are across that and want to set the scene for what that means in market terms. After all, that’s what betting news is all about.
If you’re fairly new to gambling – before you decide to take a punt on the big Epsom horse race – we can offer you a helping hand. Our glossary section seeks out horse racing and betting jargon and busts it! We break down terms into easy to understand articles that educate you and leave you better informed about the world of gambling on the horses. Everyone needs a leg-up when they’re getting started and we’re proud to offer this support so that you can get in the know about horse racing. Check out our great glossary articles today!