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Epsom Derby trends: The facts and figures behind Britain’s richest flat race

| 17.05.2022

Epsom Derby trends: Who will win the Blue Riband classic?

On June 4, Epsom Downs racecourse will once again host Britain’s richest flat race: the Epsom Derby. First run way back in 1780, it remains one of the most prestigious events on the calendar as one of the five classics and the middle leg of the Triple Crown.

In anticipation of this year’s action we’ve crunched the numbers from the last 20 races and picked out some of the most interesting Epsom Derby trends.

How do favourites perform in the Epsom Derby?

Until recently the entrant’s starting prices have been a reliable barometer of race performance, with one of the three shortest-priced horses winning every race from 2004 to 2016. However in 2017 there was a shock win for 40/1 outsider Wings of Eagles and since then the winner of the Epsom Derby has not been among the three starting favourites.

Epsom Derby 1

Overall the favourite has won six of the last 20 races: the same proportion as horses who were fourth favourites or worse, so don’t be afraid to look down the racecard at the outsiders.

We can quantify the ideal odds range by looking at how horses in each price bracket have fared over the last two decades. With the exception of Anthony Van Dyck at 13/2 in 2019, all of the last six winners have been priced at 16/1 or longer, with those falling in between those two figures having failed to win any of the last 20 races.

Epsom Derby prices

While short-priced contenders do not have a monopoly on success at Epsom they are still a force to be reckoned with. Almost a third of horses priced at 4/1 or shorter during the last 20 years came in first and comfortably over half finished at least third.

Which trainer has the most Epsom Derby wins?

No trainer has come close to Aidan O’Brien, who has dominated this race in recent years with eight winners in his career so far: more than anyone else in its long history. Seven of these have come in the last 20 years, which puts him head and shoulders above his current rivals. There are only seven other trainers with at least five Epsom Derby entries in the last two decades – including at least one in the last five years – who have had a horse finish third or better.

Epsom Derby 3

Charlie Appleby won with Adayar last year and placed third with Hurricane Lane, adding to Masar’s victory in 2018. Another contender is John Gosden, who triumphed in 2015 on the Frankie Dettori-ridden Golden Horn and has had three placings since then. Both are training horses for Epsom again this year and will surely be targeting further success.

Are Irish-trained horses lucky at Epsom?

O’Brien isn’t the only Irish trainer whose horses have fared well in this race. Dermot Weld trained the 2016 winner Harzand while Kevin Prendergast’s Madhmoon came second in 2019. Overall, Irish-trained entrants have fared better than their British counterparts in recent years, accounting for 10 of the 18 horses finishing third or better over the last six derbies.

Epsom Derby 2

This is an even more impressive return given that they have been in the minority at Epsom. While 2018 and 2021 were bad years for Ireland-based trainers, they weren’t disasters: both saw an Irish-trained horse finish fourth.

Does jockey experience count?

Emmet McNamara’s win on Serpentine in 2020 came on his Epsom Derby debut, but this level of first-time performance is unusual. Winning jockeys tend to have performed well in this race previously. Of the last 20 derby winners, eight had tasted success in this race earlier in their careers and another five had finished second or third.

Epsom Derby Jockey experience

However, we have to go back to Golden Horn in 2015 to find the most recent win by a previous champion jockey – the aforementioned Frankie Dettori. Since then we’ve had two winning jockeys who had finished second before, one who had finished third, one with a previous best of 11th and two first-timers.

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Author

Warren Barner