When I first moved to Canada from the UK, I had to adjust my pronunciation of a few words. Resistance was futile, and I adapted. However, I drew the line at "kebabs" (not "kebobs"!) and "Derby." When you use a word that is linked to one of the world's most prestigious and historical spectacles, you have to say it correctly: "dah-bee," not "der-bee."
The Epsom Derby, held on the first Saturday of June every year, is Britain's richest (the winning horse's owner received £700K last year) and the season's most famous horse race. Dating back to 1780, the Derby (named after the 12th Earl of Derby) has lent its name to many other versions around the world, most famously the Kentucky Derby, of course, which was first run in 1875.
Queen Elizabeth II is a passionate fan of horse racing and the owner of several thoroughbreds, some of which have won previous classics. Given that, it's no wonder that on the opening day of her Diamond Jubilee celebration weekend, she will be at Epsom for a unique Derby race. She may be rooting for Set to Music, her own horse, running in the Diamond Jubilee Coronation Cup on Investec Derby Day, June 2.
Epsom, located in leafy Surrey southwest of London, is a gorgeous racecourse. It's easy on the eye but presents a stern challenge for runners in all race categories. The Derby is run on turf (as are all the top European races, rather than on dirt) over 1.5 miles and is one of five "classics" (only three-year-olds can participate) run throughout the season.
The Derby race festival is held over just two days, but back in 19th century it was a weeklong event, an occasion attended by thousands of visitors from all over the country, including Charles Dickens.
The confusion of the betting analysis, the roar of the crowd as the horses leave the starting gates, the excitement of the commentators as the jockeys turn their mounts for home around Tattenham Corner, the Royal Family looking on — it's all part of the spectacle.
One of my earliest memories of the race was in 1981 when the race was won by Shergar by a record ten lengths — a breathtaking turn of foot that some say has not been witnessed since. A beautiful bay colt with a white face, Shergar's name became synonymous with running very fast at school (unfortunately, it was not a term associated with my own running speed).
More information about the Derby is at www.epsomderby.co.uk.
By Matt Goff