It is hard to describe to the uninitiated what Derby Day is like. I’m sure that those race goers who have experienced the magic and mayhem of the Melbourne Cup, which takes place annually in early November may have seen similar scenes to those that unravel in the first Saturday in June every year in what is normally the sleepy town of Epsom.
The Derby has been run in these parts since 1780, with the only exceptions being in the war years when it moved north to Newmarket and is Britain’s richest horse race with the winning horse getting a cheque for over a quarter of a million pounds, and the most prestigious of the five Classics.
Over the course of the time, the meeting, which now includes Ladies Day on the Friday has become much more than just horse racing, with a huge fairground and live music on the common land of Epsom Downs. Come Derby Day and the crowds top over one hundred thousand, all trying to get a track-side view of the action. However, come to one of the other nine meetings during the year and things are a little calmer and the beauty of the venue and its surroundings can be enjoyed to the full.
Our last visit – June 2016
Our decision to come to the Derby was a last minute affair. Whilst all of the “good” tickets had been snapped up a long time ago, 24 hours before the big race there were still tickets available for the Lonsdale part of the track at £35 as well as infamous “Hill” at just £15. Some strategic timing off missing the first race, and the fact that most race goers had been there on the piss since 7am meant that we had no issues driving into Epsom or even parking within a short walk of Tattenham Corner for “just” £10.
Now I’m not a snob, but the original plan of watching it for free on the common land at Tattenham Corner, but seeing the state of some of the punters we decided to venture inside the track and paid £50 each to enter the Tattenham Enclosure where people were just as drunk but at least wore shoes.
Be prepared for queues for everything as well as being able to avoid obstacles on the floor. A large drunk lady from Sheffield needs careful negotiation, although she did present some amusement value for the kids. However, most people have bat-like navigation in such circumstances and manage to stumble around the issues and hazards.
A pint of beer (Epsom – please note that Stella does not count as a “craft beer”), a glass of Prosecco and two diet cokes later (that’ll be £21 sir) and we squeezed into a spot on the rails of the finishing straight. Fortunately we had typical English Summer weather, with overcast skies and drizzle rather than roasting (and obviously seeing some of the over-alcoholised guests shedding their clothes) and it was a pleasant enough watching British society descend into mayhem.
Two winners on the undercard at 11/1 and 10/1 respectively had us in a good mood for the main event and with the eyes of the world watching, two of the three most fancied horses finished first/second, with Harzand winning the race at 13/2. Littlest Fuller (in age not height) had picked Idaho as an each way and at 14/1 it was a decent return.
We stayed for one more, failing to back any of the outsiders in the 5:15 race but with cash in the pocket we decided to try and beat the traffic and left. As we approached junction 6 on the M25 the sign for Lingfield Park appeared. “Evening racing at Lingfield anyone?” Of course it was. Why cut short a good day at the races?
What’s the track like?: Flat racing only across the top of the Epsom Commons and then sweeping down to Tattenham Corner and up the long finishing straight.
Admission: That will depend on the event and where you want to be. Tickets for the Derby range from £15 for “The Hill” to £140 for a reserved seat in the Grandstand, and everything inbetween. A good ticket option is the Lonsdale at £35 although tickets are limited. For “normal” events then expect to pay around £16 to £22. For the Derby meeting and Ladies Day there are dress code restrictions in place in certain sections. These are relaxed for events such as the Summer Evening series. As with most tracks it is worth booking ahead and saving up to 20% on ticket prices.
Food and Drink: For a track that’s fit to host such an auspicious race as the Derby there’s no surprise that there is a huge range of eating and drinking options. There are two formal restaurants within the grandstand that offer excellent views over the track – Tattenhams which offers packages for £50 per head outside of Derby Day and the Blue Riband Restaurant which offers a much more formal experience for around £80 per person. In addition there are plenty of eateries in the Duchess and Queen’s Stands.
Address: Epsom Downs, Surrey, KT18 5LQ
Directions: The racecourse is just a few minutes from Epsom Town Centre on the B290 Epsom Downs Road or alternatively just off junction 8 or 9 of the M25. From Junction 8 head north on the A217 Brighton Road. At the Burghheath junction turn left onto the A240 then left onto the B2221 Tattenham Way after 3/4 mile. At the end of the road the racecourse is right in front of you. If you are coming off at junction 9 then follow signs for the A24 and then into Epsom Town Centre. Follow the ring road until the junction with the B290 Ashley Road and head south for the racecourse. During the racing season, AA signs will mark all major approach routes. If you are using satellite navigation, please key in the postcode: KT18 5LQ.
Epsom Station is connected by both South West Trains and Southern Trains. Connections from London Waterloo & London Victoria. Take a 10 minute taxi or bus ride from the station. Please note that during The Investec Derby Festival a shuttle bus service runs from Epsom station.
Tattenham Corner Station ia approximately 1/2 mile walk to the racecourse whilst Epsom Downs Station is around 15 minutes away. Metrobus operates a 460, 480 and 406F service which runs from Epsom Town Centre to Tattenham Corner Station