The Blue Riband Of The Turf
Horses and chalk have geographical and nutritional connections.
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary carbonate rock, a form of limestone composed of the mineral calcite which is calcium carbonate.
A downland is an area of open chalk hills.
This term is especially used to describe the chalk countryside in southern England.
Areas of downland are often referred to as Downs, deriving from a Celtic word for “hills”.
The Downs close to Epsom have always been one of the green lungs of the greater London area.
1618, there even became something of a spa with the discovery of Epsom Salts.
The popularity of Epsom Spring Water lasted for a couple of decades.
But even with a regular stream of weekend ramblers from the city, the Downs basically remained a quiet place out in the middle of nowhere.
Then, the sole reason to became an attraction there was horse racing.
Organised racing was held on a regular basis and was so popular that it found its way into documentations.
1648-05-18, a meeting of the royalists was held on Banstead Downs under the pretence of a horse race, and six hundred horses were collected and marched to Reigate.
1663-05-27, “This day there was great thronging to Banstead Downs, upon a great horse-race and foot-race. I am sorry I could not go thither.” was written on Samuel Pepys’ Diary.
1663-07-25, “Having intended this day to go to Banstead Downs to see a famous race, I sent Will to get himself ready to go with me (…) and so by boat to White Hall, where I hear that the race is put off, because the Lords do sit in Parliament to-day.” was also written on Samuel Pepys’ Diary.
Within the proximity of 5 miles, those were the most classical venues of thoroughbred horse racing up to the modern time.
Derby (UK /ˈdɑːbɪ/ DAH-bee or US /ˈdɜːrbɪ/ DUR-bee)
1779-05-14 Friday, the Derby originated at a celebration following the first running of the Oaks Stakes for three-year-old fillies.
The Oak, named after Lord Derby’s country house in Woodmansterne, was run over a mile and a half (8st 4lb), at 50 guineas each.
There were 12 runners and appropriately, it was won by Lord Derby’s BRIDGET, the 5-2 favourite.
A new race for the three-year-old was planned, and it was decided that it should be named after either the host of the party, the 12th Earl of Derby, or one of his guests, Sir Charles Bunbury.
According to legend the decision was made by the toss of a coin, but it is probable that Bunbury, the Steward of the Jockey Club, deferred to his host.
1780-05-04 Thursday, the inaugural running of the Derby was won by DIOMED, a colt owned by Sir Charles Bunbury, who collected prize money of £1,065 15s.
Traditionally, the term “derby” is used strictly to refer to races restricted to three-year-olds.
The most notable exceptions to this rule are the Hong Kong Derby and Singapore Derby, restricted to four-year-old Thoroughbreds.
Right after the legendary events – the first few “Epsom Derby” though only on a distance of a mile – met with instant success.
1784, the course was extended to its current distance of a mile and a half, and Tattenham Corner was introduced.
1820s, crowds of up to 80,000 were reported by the newspapers.
1850s, attendance at the Derby was around 500,000, including the Royal Family and members of Parliament.
It is therefore hardly surprising that right from the beginning, Derby races have been seen as an important historical record.
Epsom Derby has been named as the Blue Riband and regarded as one of the British Classics.
They are the five long-standing Group 1 horse races, St. Leger (1776), Oaks (1779), Derby (1780), 2,000 Guineas (1809), and 1,000 Guineas (1814).
The charisma of British Epsom Derby was quickly spread all over the world.
Macao, Peking, Shanghai, Tientsin, Hankow, Amoy racecourses held their Derby sooner or later with characteristics of China Races.
1873-02-21_3, Hong Kong inaugurated a Derby . For all China Ponies, bond fide Griffins at date of entry. 10st. 7lbs. 1-1/2 miles.
Nothing specially or properly mentioned but just as running one of the very ordinary races.
Then, the runnings of Hong Kong Derby remained a routine until the WWII.
Until the end of the 20th century, HK Derby varied upon the date, distance, entry, gender and weight.
Finally it settled down to be a race for 4 year olds only.
Acknowledgment to Mr Lacuda Mengnah Mr Peter Yuen for relevant content.