If you were designing a course for the premier Classic run in the UK and one of the top races in Europe the blueprint would not be based on the sort of terrain that the 13-strong field will face on Saturday afternoon.
However, it’s not just the course that provides a test for humans and equines alike, but the whole Derby day experience and it’s important that all concerned keep their nerve and adapt to the pressures of the day. The course itself can only be described as an eccentric one has been used since 1872 and the left-handed horseshoe or U-shaped course ensures a thorough test of the thoroughbred breed and as the Derby betting odds show, only the best of the best can pass it.
No longer to the horses go to the start, which is situated almost directly across the course from the stands but canter down to the start in the reverse way that they will be coming back, that journey is taken at a slower pace than the return journey but still gives them an idea of the ground they will be facing. Once again it can test the temperament and nerve of even the calmest horse.
Once loaded at the start, the runners will be climbing straight away, the course actually rises some 11ft in the first 7F, and there are some awkward twists and turns in the early part of the race, as the course first bends right and then back to the left. The most important point to look for at this part of the race is the horse that the jockey had managed to get into a rhythm as they need to be balanced for the run downhill as they descend and turn left-handed towards Tattenham Corner. Plenty of horses find it hard to handle this unique test and plenty of past Derbies have been left behind on this very tricky descent and turn.
As the horses turn to face the cambered Epsom straight they also face a tunnel of noise with the crowd packed in tightly on both sides of the course. That camber can roll the horses down towards the inside rail and once again the horse needs to be balanced and in a rhythm to have a chance of winning the Derby.
Given the uniqueness of the test, temperament, balance and athleticism are essential ingredients for any Derby winner and all of the winners have those three key attributes.