Why it is so difficult to win the Epsom Derby, the blue riband of the turf that dates back to 1780

The mammoth crowd estimated between a quarter and half a million at the Epsom Derby 1934.

Every racehorse owner wants to win the Epsom Derby of England, or simply The Derby as it is often called. It is indeed the Derby, the blue riband of the turf, the greatest horse race in the world.

To give an idea of how difficult it is to win The Derby, I will give you an illustration of the 1934 edition of the race won by my grandfather Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla’s horse Windsor Lad. It was run on Wednesday 6th June of that year. There were 19 runners out of an initial entry of as many as 309 horses. Only the very best three-year-old colts are carefully chosen to run this prestigious race.

Derby Day is really a festival, the biggest in the English racing calendar. Hundreds of thousands of people congregate at Epsom Downs, from royalty to the common people. It is a spectacle that has been enthralling racing enthusiasts around the world since 1780. The race has been run every year since then except during the two World Wars. Sadly, 2020 might earn the unhappy distinction of being the only year not to stage this showpiece event for a reason other than war.

The British royal family at the Epsom Derby 1934, led by King George V and Queen Mary.

In 1934, the hot favourite was the unbeaten Colombo, owned by Lord Glanely. Windsor Lad was bred by Dan Sullivan in Ireland, and trained by Marcus Marsh at Lambourn, England. Marcus Marsh was the son of Richard Marsh, who had trained Derby-winning horses for the reigning monarch King George V and his father King Edward VII.

The start of the Epsom Derby 1934.

Expertly ridden by Charlie Smirke, Windsor Lad staged a stunning upset in the exhilarating race, beating Colombo to third place, Easton, owned by Lord Woolavington, came in second. Windsor Lad won by a length, while there was a neck between the second and third.

Windsor Lad wins the Epsom Derby 1934.

The winning time over the 1 mile 4 furlong and 6 yards race (2,420 metres) was a record at 2 minutes 34 seconds. The winner won a first prize of £8,852, (The equivalent of over £650,000 in today’s terms based on Bank of England inflation calculator, close to Rupees 6.5 crores).

The jubilant Maharaja Vijaysinhji of Rajpipla with his Epsom Derby winning horse Windsor Lad.

(The story of the Epsom Derby 1934 has been told in ‘A Maharaja’s Turf’ by Maharaja Vijaysinhji’s grandson Indra Vikram Singh).

A Maharaja’s Turf

Published in India by Sporting Links

ISBN 978-81-901668-3-6

Fully Illustrated

Hardcover with jacket 8.75 x 11.5 x 0.6 inches (landscape)

140 Pages


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