Derby Day weather

  • A warm day for top hat and tails at the Epsom Derby. Photo: David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images.

    Pour Moi ridden by Mickael Barzalona (left) gets up to beat Carlton House ridden by Ryan Moore (right). Photo: David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    Blue skies and fair-weather clouds over the winner's enclosure. Photo: David Davies/PA Archive/Press Association Images

    Sun Star, ridden by George Stern, wins the Derby in 1911 before the outbreak of violent storms. Photo: PA/PA Archive/Press Association Images

  • Derby Day weather
    06.06.2011 14:19


    Fine, warm but rather breezy weather greeted the crowds and runners at Epsom last Saturday for the 232nd running of the Derby.

    The temperature rose above 27 degrees Celsius in the shade, and one could almost imagine that the winning horse, Pour Moi, and his young rider Mickael Barzalona, had brought the weather northwards with them from France. Or indeed Barcelona.

    The weather has not always been so kind.

    On May 22 1867 the Derby was run in frigid conditions on a day blighted by heavy snow showers that caused ten false starts, in the days before starting stalls.

    The race in 1830 was run in pouring rain and took 13 attempts to get underway, while in 1820 it was hindered by a violent gale.

    In 1891 there was such a deluge of rain that jockeys were allowed to weigh in carrying two pounds more than when they started to account for the water and mud soaked into their silks.

    But the worst Derby Day weather was exactly one hundred years ago. May 31 1911 was a hot and sultry day, and severe thunderstorms built up across much of the country, including the Epsom Downs.

    A hilltop is not the best place to be in a thunderstorm, and after the conclusion of the race lightning began to flicker around the horizon.

    Hailstones and heavy rain fell, then frequent lightning struck the course, its surroundings and a number of race-goers, leading to 3 or 4 fatalities and many injuries.  

    Hail heaped up to a depth of 15cm, and a prodigious 62mm of rain fell over the Downs in only 50 minutes turning the muddy roads into a quagmire, while around 160 lightning strikes were counted in just a quarter of an hour.

    Most inappropriately, the winning horse was called Sun Star.

    By: Stephen Davenport