By Jordan Hopkins
The month of June is an incredibly important period in the history and foremostly the future of the thoroughbred racing industry. Epsom racecourse hosts The Derby festival where the best three-year-old colts and fillies go head to head in a bid for Classic glory. The Derby in particular is a race that has shaped the breed as a real stallion making contest down the years. Much has changed since its first running in 1780, though it remains the most illustrious, and coveted race in Great Britain.
From 1780, The Derby was ran over a mile before it was extended to a mile and a half in 1784. The first winner of the race was Diomed, whose legacy is honoured with a Group 3 event in his name contested on Derby day (Diomed Stakes). After the first 50 years of renewals, The Derby had firmly stamped its position at the pinnacle of the British racing calendar. It is without doubt the most prestigious race in British racing, with a purse of £1,604,000 (£909,628 to the winner).
This year’s renewal was won by Nathaniel colt Desert Crown, on just his third career outing. He remains unbeaten having won the Dante Stakes at York (and a maiden at Nottingham as a two-year-old) on his way to Epsom glory. In crowning himself the winner, he gave jockey Richard Kingscote a maiden Classic victory, and his trainer Sir Michael Stoute a sensational sixth Derby.
Epsom also plays host to The Oaks each year on Derby weekend, which acts as the equivalent race for the three-year-old fillies. The race was first introduced by Lord Derby in 1779 having had the idea of a fillies Classic raised to him by General John Burgoyne a year prior. In its first running, the Lord Derby owned Bridget hit the line in front as the 5/2 favourite.
This year’s renewal would have to be one of the best finishes to a race I have seen, with Emily Upjohn and eventual winner Tuesday fighting it out neck and neck to the line to be divided by the finest of margins. The winning filly gave her trainer Aidan O’Brien a tenth win in the race, and followed in the footsteps of her full-sister, Minding, the Oaks winner of 2016.
Alongside the two Classics is the Group 1 Coronation Cup over 12 furlongs for older horses, another key race in the calendar. This year’s renewal was won by Hukum, a 5-year-old entire by Sea The Stars, and a half-brother to arguably the best racehorse in the world currently, Baaeed.
The Derby festival is the most important weekend in racing for many reasons, but the most pivotal of those is that The Derby itself has defined the course of thoroughbred breeding. Galileo and Sea The Stars, to name two winners of the race, went on to become two of the most prominent stallions in recent times. This was never more evident than in The Oaks this year where a Galileo filly pipped a progeny of Sea The Stars to the post.
During the middle of June, Ascot takes centre stage with the blockbuster five-day Royal meeting, playing host to no less than eight individual Group 1 races. The Tuesday is widely regarded as the best to attend, with three Group 1’s on a mouthwatering card. The first being the Queen Anne Stakes – one of the most important races of the week. Furthermore, top Australian sprinter Nature Strip is set to take on Wesley Ward’s Golden Pal in an exciting King’s Stand renewal. All in all, this is a week of racing that is not to be missed (14th-18th June 2022).
Overall, the month of June is a hugely significant period for British racing with both its biggest race (The Derby), and the richest meeting of the calendar year (Royal Ascot) – The Royal meeting offers up a staggering £8,652,500 in total prize money for 2022.
This year’s Derby winner could well be the best since Golden Horn, or even Sea The Stars – the beauty of racing is that as the season unfolds the answer to that conundrum will hopefully be revealed.
Photo: JTW Equine Images