Did the Derby used to be run on a Wednesday?

Yes, it did. For most of the twentieth century, the Derby was run on Epsom Downs on the first Wednesday in June. The race was staged on a Tuesday between 1915 and 1918 and on a Saturday between 1942 and 1945, when run, as the ‘New Derby’, at Newmarket, and on a Saturday again between 1947 and 1950, and in 1953, following its return to Epsom Downs. However, in the face of dwindling attendances, the last Derby to be run in its traditional Wednesday slot was the 1994 renewal, won by Erhaab, and since then the race has been run on a Saturday afternoon. The move was not universally welcomed and was subsequently described by various commentators as ‘a mistake’ or even ‘a catastrophic blunder’. Nevertheless, at one point, in the face of declining TV audience figures, a Saturday evening slot for the premier Classic was mooted by the racecourse executive at Epsom Downs.

What are apprentice and conditional jockeys?

In Britain, apprentice and conditional jockeys are relatively young, inexperienced jockeys who, because of their lack of inexperience, can ‘claim’ a weight allowance when riding against fully licensed, professional jockeys. The terms ‘apprentice’ and ‘conditional’ are simply used to differentiate between such jockeys who ride on the Flat or under National Hunt Rules, although the weight allowances for each type of jockey vary slightly.

An apprentice jockey can claim 7lb until he or she has won 20 races, 5lb until he or she has won 40 races and 3lb until he or she has won 95 races. A conditional jockey can also claim 7lb until he or she has won 20 races and 5lb until he or she has won 40 races, but 3lb only until he or she has won 75 races. Very inexperienced conditional jockeys, who have won less than five races, can also claim an additional 3lb when riding for their employing trainer. Apprentice and conditional jockeys must be at least 16 years of age and eligibility for either type of licence expires when they turn 26 years of age or, of course, when they have won the requisite number of races.

How many times did Lester Piggott win the Derby?

Lester Piggott rode his first winner, The Chase, at Haydock Park in 1948, at the age of just 12, and his last, Palacegate Jack, at the same Merseyside course in 1994, at the age of 59. In total, Piggott rode 4,493 winners, including 30 English Classic winners.

On his first ride in the Derby, as a precocious 15-year-old, in 1951 – long before the introduction of starting stalls – Piggott failed to make much of an impact when he was left at the start on the talented, but mulish, Zucchero. However, he opened his account in the Epsom Classic three years later, aboard Never Say Die, whose victory, at 33/1, made him the youngest jockey ever to win the Derby.

Further success followed, aboard the heavily backed favourite Crepello in 1957 and the ‘underrated’ St. Paddy in 1960, but by the time of his fourth Derby win, aboard the odds-on Sir Ivor, in 1968, Piggott had perfected the short, ‘bent hairpin’ riding style that became his trademark. His next two Derby winners, Nijinsky – who became the last horse to win the coveted ‘Triple Crown’ – in 1970 and Roberto in 1972, both started favourite, but his seventh Derby winner, Empery in 1976, was not expected by anyone, including Piggott himself, to beat the favourite, Wollow. He did, comfortably, and his victory, at 10/1, made Piggott the most successful jockey in the history of the Derby.

‘The Long Fellow’ – as Piggott was affectionately known – was not finished yet, though, winning the Derby again on The Minstrel in 1977 and Teenoso in 1983. Piggott rode in the Derby six more times, without success, but his career record of nine wins from 36 rides may never be beaten.

What are blinkers?

In horse racing, blinkers refers to cowls, or cups – typically made from fabric, leather or plastic and attached to a garment that fits over the head – that are placed next to the eyes of a horse to restrict its field of vision. Blinkers come in several different varieties, ranging from so-called ‘cheaters’, which barely restrict any vision at all, to ‘full cup’ blinkers, which are highly restrictive.

Horses are naturally ‘prey’ animals and, as such, are blessed with a 275°, panoramic view of the world. They also have small blind spots, directly in front and directly behind, so the purpose of blinkers is allow forward vision, but to deny rear and, in some cases, side vision, all or in part. The application of blinkers forces horse to concentrate on forward vision, so that they are less likely to be distracted or upset by anything elsewhere in their natural field of vision.

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