Should the Epsom Derby go back to Wednesday?

Epsom races Derby day collage

The first Wednesday of June used to be for many an unofficial bank holiday. Office, retail and factory staff parties filled Epsom Downs enjoying a day off and the annual Epsom Derby flat-race. The Epsom High Street shops used to close.

Of course, this year the Epsom Derby will take place on Saturday 1st June and the shops will remain very much open.

In a bold statement aimed at reviving the charm and prominence of the Epsom Derby, retired jockey Dane O’Neill has suggested returning the event to its traditional Wednesday slot. This proposal comes in light of apparent declining attendances and the Derby’s diminishing distinctiveness against competitors like Royal Ascot.

O’Neill was speaking to Boyle Sports, who offer the latest odds for the Epsom Derby event, said “I think they have messed things up by moving it around a lot, and as a result has lost its identity for the wider public. We have seen it under several different guises. For the aficionado it is always going to be the Epsom Derby, one of the mainstays of English racing, but they have changed it so much that it has lost its spark.”

For much of the 20th century, the Epsom Derby was synonymous with the first Wednesday in June. This midweek scheduling created a unique atmosphere, drawing massive crowds not only for the race but also for a festive day out. Historically, even Parliament would adjourn to allow members to attend, highlighting the event’s national significance.

However, in 1995, the race was moved to Saturday in a bid to boost attendances and television ratings, a decision that has since been met with mixed reactions.

The switch to Saturday was intended to increase visibility and attendance, capitalizing on the weekend’s leisure time. Yet, O’Neill and other critics argue that this move has diluted the Derby’s unique character, making it just another event in a crowded sporting calendar. O’Neill believes that returning to a Wednesday would help restore the Derby’s distinctiveness and might reignite public interest by creating a midweek spectacle that stands out on its own.

Epsom’s course is renowned for its challenging nature, likened by O’Neill to a rollercoaster ride with its steep climbs and sharp turns, particularly at Tattenham Corner. This distinctive track demands exceptional skill from both horse and jockey, adding to the race’s allure and prestige.

The Derby remains a cornerstone of English flat racing, celebrated for its history and the high calibre of competition it attracts.

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Images credit:  @EpsomRacecourse