Irish Derby History

The Epsom Derby and Irish Racing

1991: Generous ridden by Alan Munroe en route to victory in the Irish Derby held at The Curragh, Ireland. Chris Cole/AllsportThe first “derby” ever raced was the English Epsom Derby, named after Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby. The Epsom Derby was first run in 1780, one year after the inaugural Epsom Oaks – which was named after the Earl’s estate, “The Oaks”.

The Earl’s own horse, Bridget, won the very first running of the Epsom Oaks. In celebration of the win, a similar race for colts was planned. It’s recorded that the Earl and his friend Sir Charles Bunbury tossed a coin to determine whose name the race should take. The Earl of Derby won, but it was Sir Charles’ horse Diomed who won the first Epsom Derby, for the sum of 1,065 EUR.

From the earliest days of the Epsom Derby, the Irish were making an impression. Irish owners Denis “Eclipse” O’Kelly and Lord Clermont won three of the first six stagings. In 1897, John Gubbins’ Irish-bred Galtee More won the English Triple Crown, consisting of the 2000 Guineas , the Epsom Derby and the St Leger Stakes. The half brother of Galtee More, Ard Patrick, went on to win the Epsom Derby in 1902.

The Irish Derby and the Curragh

Irish Derby history dates back to 1866, when the inaugural race was won by the colt Selim. This makes the Irish Derby the earliest of the five Irish Classic races – followed by the Irish Oaks, which was first run in 1895.

All of the Irish Classics are raced at the Curragh Racecourse, which has been hosting official races since as early as 1741. Manuscripts also show that the surrounding plain known as the Curragh – or “An Cuireach” in Gaelic – saw chariot races in the third century, and that its use for horse racing dates all the way back to pre-Christian times.

The Irish Derby attracts the very best of English, Irish and French thoroughbred owners and trainers. In recent years, it has been dominated by Irish-trained horses. Since 1997, horses trained by Aidan O’Brien have won the race a remarkable five times. Irish trainer John Oxx has seen two wins, and Dermot Weld won with Grey Swallow in 2004. Both John Oxx and Dermot Weld are based in the area surrounding the Curragh. The last Irish Derby win by a horse trained in England came with Commander In Chief, in 1993.

Don’t miss the continuation of Irish Derby history at the Curragh in June!