Why Is A Horse Racing Event Called A Derby?

Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world that dates back hundreds of years. Horse racing is also one of the sports that sits very close to its roots that started the whole thing, and it nurtures tradition, especially for popular horse races like the Kentucky Derby.

So, why horse races are called Derby? Well, the word Derby started to find its presence in horse racing back in 1780 after Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby. 

He co-founded the classic 1.5-mile race for three-year-old thoroughbred colts with his friend, the Jockey Club steward Sir Charles Bunbury. The name of the first classic race was called Derby Stakes, which is popular nowadays, but the Derby has also changed its tradition and was organized on different events. 

During the Second World War, the race was the best thing to boost morale, which led to the relocation of the Epson and the Oaks Derby to Newmarket. 

Why Horse Races are Called “Derby” Nowadays?

When most people hear the word “Derby” the first thing that comes to mind is the Kentucky Derby. However, there are many different types of derbies around the world and this term is used to indicate the type of race.

Even though the Kentucky Derby is one of the most popular races in the world, often described by the people as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports” it is not the only derby with rich horse racing tradition.

The word “Derby” is used to explain that type of race, which refers to any horse race limited to three-year-old thoroughbreds.

This term comes from the Derby Stakes which was a famous race in England named after Edward Smith-Stanley, the 12th Earl of Derby that we mentioned above.

With that said, we’ve seen some exceptions, especially in modern times where organizers use the term “Derby” even if the race isn’t only limited to three-year-olds. The most notable exception to this rule is the Hong Kong Derby and the Singapore Derby, which are restricted to four-year-old Thoroughbreds, as well as the Canadian Pacing Derby, with the same rules as the other two.

What is a Thoroughbred?

We often hear the word thoroughbreds, especially in big horse racing events, but what does it actually mean?

Well, thoroughbreds are slim, high-spirited, horses capable of running at high speeds. Thoroughbreds are horses that are specifically bred for racing. This term started to get popular after horse racing enthusiasts started to invest time and money into the breeding process back in the 17th and 18th centuries.

In fact, all modern Thoroughbreds can trace their origins back to three of these stallions that revolutionized horse racing forever, such as Darley Arabian, Byerly Turk, and the Godolphin Arabian. 

Popular Derby Races

Nowadays, many professional “Derby” races attract millions of people each year. Derby races are often considered the “test of champions” where only the best horses participate. Here are some of the most popular Derby races.

Kentucky Derby

This is one of the oldest horse races in the world with a 146-year tradition. It is traditionally organized in Louisville, Kentucky on the Churchill Downs racetrack. 

This is a Grade I stakes race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds. The next edition happens already on May 7th and you can check the Kentucky Derby odds here.

Epsom Derby

As we mentioned before, the Epsom Derby was the race that started the Derby Stakes. This race was inaugurated in 1780 and it is run at Epsom Downs on the first Saturday of June each year.

Victoria Derby

The Victoria Derby is a Grade I thoroughbred horse race for three-year-olds held in Melbourne, Australia. This race is also known as Penfolds Victoria Derby and it was first inaugurated in 1855. This is where the famous champion Phar Lap embedded its name in the horse racing roots as being a champion of the race, and New Zealand’s greatest racehorse ever.