WHILE the five-day Royal meeting at Ascot later in the month may be seen as the pinnacle of the Flat season, Epsom’s meeting at the start of June features arguably the most prestigious race in the world, the Derby.
First run in 1780, the race takes its name from Edward Smith Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby, who won the coin toss between himself and Sir Charles Bunbury over who the new race would be named after. Although his name never earned the same place in racing history, Bunbury got some compensation when his horse Diomed won the first running. Internationally, 140 other countries now hold a Derby.
The Derby attracts a huge one-day sporting crowd with in excess of more than 125,000 people descending on the Downs on Derby Day every year.
Pour Moi: 2011 Derby winnerPICTURE: Edward Whitaker
For many years, the Derby was the feature race on day one of a four-day festival, always run on the first Wednesday in June. The meeting was shortened first to three days and then to two in the 1990s, with the Derby taking its new home on the first Saturday of June in 1995 when it was won in a then course record time by Lammtarra.
The other two Group 1 races of the meeting, the Oaks, the third Classic of the season and one which is run solely for three-year-old fillies, and the Coronation Cup, run over the same 1m4f but for older horses are normally now both run on the Friday, but for this year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations the Coronation Cup will be run on Saturday.
Despite competition from all around the globe, the Derby is still ranked as the greatest Flat race in the world. With a prize fund of £1.325m, the Investec Derby is also the UK's richest race. It remains the race that everyone wants to win, as horses and riders push themselves to the limit around the unique and challenging course. On the long and illustrious roll of honour of Derby winners are some of the most famous equine names in racing history, including Mille Reef, Shergar and, in the last three years, Sea The Stars, Workforce and Pour Moi.
Friday: Now billed as ladies’ day, the Friday combines high style stakes with top class Flat racing. The Group 1 Oaks for three-year-old fillies, the third Classic of the season, and one that is actually a year older than the more famous Derby, tops the racing bill.
Last year it was won by Dancing Rain, trained by William Haggas and ridden by Johnny Murtagh. She went on to complete an Oaks double when winning the German version in August.
The main supporting races are the Group 3 Princess Elizabeth Stakes over 1m½f, and the Group 3 Diomed Stakes over the same trip.
Camelot: 2012 Derby winnerPICTURE: Getty Images
The focal point of ladies' day entertainment is the What Best to Wear competition.
Saturday: The feature race of the meeting, and for many fans the entire Flat season, is the Derby. The race - one of terrestrial TV's protected crown jewels - is one of the premier sporting events in any sphere.
Rather like the Grand National, many bookmakers on course will be betting on the Derby from early in the morning, often giving the impression that the whole day is all about the one race. While rightly existing in the Derby's shadow, the supporting events are keenly-contested and followed in their own right.
The Coronation Cup takes place over the same 1m4f course and distance but is for four-year-olds and upwards. With runners of both sexes involved, it often features horses who ran well in the previous year's Derby and Oaks. Last year it was won by the Aidan O'Brien-trained St Nicholas Abbey.
Although it only has handicap status, one of the most popular races of the meeting is the Dash, which takes place over the fastest 5f in the world and serves to whip up the atmosphere before the Derby.