One of the world’s most famous racecourses, Epsom Downs plays host to two of the most illustrious races on the planet: The Epsom Derby and The Oaks. This Grade 1 racecourse in the heart of Surrey is situated on the chalk downland of the North Downs which gives spectators a unique panoramic view of the capital and beyond.
Epsom’s course is shaped like an elongated horseshoe. It’s revered across the horse racing world as one of the most testing flat racing tracks on the planet. In the first half mile of the course alone, there is an incline of 150 feet which then levels out before a steep decline around Tattenham Corner.
The straight five-furlong course also offers a supreme test for any thoroughbred given its supreme speed. It’s downhill all the way which means impressive gallopers and horses with the ability to switch up the gears tend to prevail.
The course, which has a crowd capacity approaching 120,000, is normally packed to the rafters for the Derby and the Oaks. The Derby is regarded as the UK’s premier thoroughbred race for three-year-old colts and fillies over a distance of a mile and a half (2400m). The 2015 Derby saw a return to victory for enigmatic veteran jockey, Frankie Dettori, who won his second Epsom Derby by three-and-a-half lengths on the John Gosden-trained Golden Horn.
Meanwhile the Oaks is strictly for three-year-old fillies only, serving as the middle leg of the Fillies’ ‘Triple Crown’, which includes the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket, followed by the St. Leger at Doncaster.
The Coronation Cup is also a prestigious Group 1 flat race that takes place each year in June. It’s open to thoroughbreds aged four years or older, run over a distance of 1 mile and 4 furlongs.
David Probert says: “With the Oaks and Derby, as well as the Dash and all the rest of the Derby meeting races, here are a few thoughts on riding the unique track at Epsom.
The five furlong course is straight and downhill for the first three-and-a-half furlongs, but it's actually deceptively testing in the finish as the turf rises back up again in the last furlong. A high draw is an advantage in big fields as it enables you to get a position close to the stands rail where both the camber and the undulations are slightly less severe. As well as a fast horse you need a lucky one, and it's certainly an exciting trip to ride with things changing very quickly in the dying strides.
Six furlong races start on the crown of the home turn and if you're drawn inside you can sometimes get boxed in with nowhere to go. Ideally I'd like a middle draw as that gives the most options for how to ride the race depending on how things are panning out in front of me. If I've got a horse with gate speed, I'll use that to get him into a position and a nice rhythm, trying to keep him balanced on the downhill run into the straight. Plenty lug down the camber in the last half mile which again can make life difficult if you're holed up on the far rail.
Seven is probably the easiest trip to ride at Epsom. It's pretty straightforward, you can get yourself a position and - as with most ranges here - they get racing early enough. At seven, there's room to find a stride, get your horse on the right lead and it's probably a pretty fair test. In six and seven furlong races if you can get the fractions right on the front it does pay.
The longer races all start in the back straight and there's quite a climb there which can sap your energy if you get racing early on. When you get to the top of the hill, at about the six pole, you need to make sure you fill your horse up, get him balanced and on the right lead, so that when you're running back down the hill you're ready to quicken off the turn and into the straight, making sure that your horse doesn't hang down the camber.
On softer ground you'll generally see the jockeys make a beeline for the stands' rail. It's a little higher up there, and therefore tends to be drier than other parts of the track as the rain drains down the camber. When it's wet it can be a plus if you're drawn high because when the field passes the three and starts running downhill everyone is jostling for the favoured strip; those in the high stalls with good track position can get first dibs on that rail and a clear run through.
Overall it's a course that takes a bit of knowing, and you sometimes need to be lucky in terms of getting the run of things”.
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