Epsom Downs Racecourse – Home to Two British Classics
Get ready to hang on, folks. The racecourse at Epsom Downs is not for beginners, as you are going to learn in this guide. The brutally difficult track has enough history and memories to warrant an organized page describing it all, so here we are.
Horse racing has been a big deal in Britain for a long, long time. Some of the earliest events took place at the course we are going to talk about in the sections below. After giving you an idea of when and how the racecourse was developed, we are going to talk about some of the unique features of the actual track. As you will come to find out, Epsom Downs is anything but your average racecourse.
We’ll then transition into a discussion about the most prominent races that take place on the course every year. It won’t take long for you to realize what makes this place so special. Finally, we want you to be fully aware of how you get to Epsom Downs and what other attractions are nearby. Perhaps you have been wanting to travel to Surrey County. We are going to give you that push you need to start scheduling a trip!
Take a peek at this brief overview of some key points before you jump into the meat of the guide.
Overview of Epsom Downs Racecourse
- Year Opened
- Epsom, Surrey, England
- Jockey Club Racecourses
- Course Type
- Notable Races
- Epsom Derby, Epsom Oaks, Coronation Cup
- Official Website
Epsom Downs Racecourse – From the Beginning
The story of how Epsom Downs Racecourse was born is quite interesting. You will read that the course officially opened when it held its first “recorded” race in 1661. The truth is, though, that horse racing had been going on in the 1640s before it was banned by the Commonwealth.
There is even a document dated from 1625 that describes man breaking his neck while falling off his horse during a race. While we cannot pinpoint the exact time and date that horse racing began at Epsom Downs, we know the following.
The property itself was discovered in 1618 when Henry Wicker stumbled upon a water hole between the town of Epsom and the village of Ashtead. Inside the water hole was where Wicker “struck gold.” By 1640, Epsom Salts were selling at five shillings per ounce.
As the years have gone on, changes on and around the track have taken place to help improve the racecourse. Whether it was introducing Tattenham Corner in 1784 or adding new elements to the grandstand like they have multiple times, Epsom Downs Racecourse has continued to evolve. One thing that hasn’t changed is its significance in British Thoroughbred racing.
One of the more notable events to take place at Epsom Downs was the tragedy that occurred more than 100 years ago. Emily Davison was a women’s activist who wanted the right to vote.
During a race in 1913, the suffragette literally lunged her body in front of Anmer, the horse owned by King George V. Unfortunately, Davison’s “courageous” acts left her so badly injured that she succumbed to her wounds and passed just four days later.
Here is a photograph of the ill-fated act, along with some words mentioning the plaque that was planted at the race course in 2013 to honor Emily.
Some Characteristics of the Racecourse
Here is where things get interesting. Some racecourses in England, like Ascot or Aintree for example, are extremely exclusive. If you want to get a great view of the races and check out their facilities, you are likely going to have to pay quite a few pounds for it. Not at Epsom Downs.
While the fans have it fairly easy, the same cannot be said for the participating Thoroughbreds. The horses with little to no experience on the course fare little chance at contending in any of the races. Even those horses have competed at the course before are lucky to get out unscathed.
The first and most obvious thing about the course is that it isn’t designed like a typical racetrack. The shape of the turf course closely resembles the letter “U,” rather than a traditional oval-shaped track.
Once the horses make their way up to the top of the hill, they must make an immediate left-hand turn and head straight downhill. This last portion of the race is predominantly downhill and lasts for about a half-mile. The final 100-yard stretch forces the horses to climb back up a small hill before crossing the finish line.
The overall size of the venue means there is more than enough room to house the horses and support the people who want to watch. In fact, there are only a few courses that officially have larger capacities. Tokyo Racecourse in Japan is one, and Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, Australia, is another.
The Major Races Held at Epsom Downs
This is an easy one. Hosting two of the biggest flat races in all of Britain, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Epson Downs is a historical racecourse. When it comes to the three biggest races at Epsom Downs, all we have to do is focus on the two biggest days of the year. We may as well start with the most acclaimed race in all of Britain.
Forget about wondering when the Epsom Derby is this year. Or next year, or the one after that. Just remember that it is ALWAYS held on the first Saturday in June. If this sounds similar to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, it is because it is. That Derby is run on the first Saturday in May, and believe us, there is a correlation. A sporting event must be pretty substantial when the first Saturday of a month is set aside for it every year.
Now for the actual race. We are talking about three-year-old colts and fillies running a shade over 1.5 miles. The 2,420-meter race has a massive prize pool of £1,625,000. A whopping amount of more than 920,000 of those pounds is awarded to the winning horse and his or her owner. We told you this race was no joke.
In fact, it is such a big deal that it deserves its own, dedicated page. We don’t want to leave out any important records or significant memories. Check out our detailed page below.
The Epsom Oaks, sometimes simply referred to as “The Oaks,” was the first major race born at Epsom Downs. It takes place on the first Friday in June, also the day before The Derby. Speaking of Derby, it was the 12th Earl of Derby who was the man responsible for getting the Epsom Oaks started in the first place.
After some discussions and planning, the first Epsom Derby got underway in 1779. Designed for three-year-old female horses (fillies), this race is the exact same length as the aforementioned Epsom Derby.
The main difference is that there are no colts in this race, just the “ladies.” With a handsome purse of £450,000, owners and trainers of the top three-year-old fillies without a doubt have their eyes set on this event.
They must be well trained and willing to carry an additional 9 stones before they can vie for the first-place award of more than a quarter-million pounds. Wionnning the race is a huge deal, but it sure doesn’t come easy.
Find out what makes the race so tough by clicking the button you see underneath. There is a whole lot more to uncover, so don’t miss out!
We won’t try and pretend that the Coronation Cup is as grand or as popular as The Derby or The Oaks. What we can tell you with absolute confirmation is that on the either the first Friday or Saturday in June, the Coronation Cup will be run – just as it has been ever since 1902. You’ll notice this is during the same two days as The Derby and The Oaks take place. No, that isn’t by some random occurrence. This is all part of the master plan at Epsom Downs Racecourse.
The Coronation Cup, like The Derby and The Oaks, is a 2,420-meter race with the horses carrying 9 stones of extra weight. Both female and male horses are eligible for the Coronation Cup, so long as they have reached their fourth birthdays. The cool thing is that many of the horses who compete in The Derby and The Oaks the year before will graduate the next season into this field of entrants.
That title goes to St Nicholas Abbey. The stallion won three in a row from 2011-2013, all while being trained by Irishman Aidan O’Brien. Legendary jockey Lester Piggott won this event an unbelievable 9 times, the most ever. Considering he also won the Epsom Derby 9 times and the Epsom Oaks on 5 occasions, it’s hard to be surprised.
Heading to Epsom Downs?
Are you thinking about checking out one of the major races the first weekend in June? Surely if you live anywhere in the area, you know how to get there. The racecourse is actually only about 20 or so miles southwest of London; however, the traffic is generally fairly heavy.
Now, we understand that not all of you live in or around the London area. Some of you may never have even traveled to England before. The great thing is that scheduling a vacation to the races at Epsom Downs means you can stop by some other well-known attractions on your way.
You will want to fly into either Heathrow or Gatwick, depending on where you are coming from. Both airports will leave you less than 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the racecourse, but again, expect delays due to the congested traffic. Flying into Heathrow will leave you closer to the center of London, giving you more flexibility.
If you plan on riding in the London Eye or want to see Buckingham Palace, try to book a flight to Heathrow and leave an extra day or two for some sightseeing. Here are some more details that will come in handy when traveling to the course.
Hungry? No problem! They have plenty of fast-food options near the Duchess’s Stand. This stand was built in 2009 and can hold more than 11,000 patrons. It’s no wonder it cost more than £23 million to construct.
If you are craving something fancier, try out the seafood bar in the Queen’s Stand. You’ll find ample opportunities to purchase alcohol, but here’s a tip.
If you will be watching the race from inside the track, in any of the Bus Enclosures, or on the Hill, guess what? You can bring your own food and drinks; they just ask that you consume your alcohol responsibly. In other words, have loads of fun – just don’t go overboard.
Epsom Downs Racecourse is clearly one of the more fascinating venues in all of the United Kingdom. The unique design with open-air seating allows the fans to catch the races from every angle. The fact that some of them don’t have to dip into their wallet for a ticket makes things even better.
Considering that racing at Epsom Downs dates all the back to the 1600s, there was more than enough information to cover. We wanted to be sure not to leave out any important history or skip out on describing the details of the property.
This is exactly why we developed individual guides for the two biggest races annually held here. The Epsom Derby and The Epsom Oaks are about as big as it gets when it comes to Thoroughbred racing in Britain.
The last thing we needed to go over was some advice for those of you who will be making the journey to Epsom Downs. Being conveniently located in between two major airports in London means that finding a good rate on airfare shouldn’t be too tall of a task. Finding things to do once you land in London?
That, we can promise, won’t be an issue.