The Epsom Handicap is a Group 1 race for horses aged three years and above. It is run over 1600 metres under handicap conditions at Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney.
It is one of the oldest and most prestigious races on the Australian Thoroughbred racing calendar, with a rich history of top gallopers’ names on the winners list.
The race is run in early October for the most part, depending on how the calendar presents its Saturdays around the end of September and the beginning of October.
The meeting when the race is run is often referred to as Epsom Day. Two other Group 1 races, the Flight Stakes and The Metropolitan, enhance the race card. There are also two Group 2 races.
Prizemoney for the Epsom Handicap received a boost to $1.5 million from $1 million for 2021. The winner of the race also receives a bonus in the form of a ballot exemption for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
Private Eye won the 2021 edition of the race, receiving $870,000 for beating all of Chris Waller’s horses. The win can be seen at the following link.
History of the Epsom Handicap
It is a long history.
The race was first run in 1865 and since it has always enjoyed a prominent spot on the Australian spring carnival calendar, it has always attracted the top horses. The prizemoney has always been a key factor in attracting the best gallopers, but the race, with its name evocative of the mother country, has an element of prestige attached also.
As a handicap without age restriction, the Epsom Handicap has supplied winners that have won on multiple occasions and stamped their names in the chronicles of racing history.
Various sponsors have attached their names to the race, but it is highly doubtful that any racing punter, fan, or even members of the general public have ever called the race anything other than the Epsom Handicap. Well, Epsom Mile is heard at times, but there is never any doubt as to what race is the topic.
We do not know with absolute certainty when the meeting on the day of the Epsom Handicap became to be called Epsom Day, but earlier in its existence, the meeting was referred to as Derby Day
The race was a mile in length, which is the modern 1600 metres, from inception through current times, with few exceptions. It was 1800 metres from 1879 through 1884. In 2001, it was abbreviated to 1400 metres when run on Randwick’s inner course.
The Epsom has always been held at Randwick, save for 1983, when it shifted to Warwick Farm due to Randwick being unavailable.
During the equine influenza outbreak of 2007, the race was not held. Two world wars were not enough, but horses at risk certainly was and the ATC showed good judgement in taking supreme precautions to slow the spread of the flu.
It was run as a Principal race until 1979, when the newly deployed Group classification system automatically made the race Group One.
Venue for the Epsom Handicap
Royal Randwick Racecourse in Sydney has always been the site of the Epsom Handicap. There was one year when the race had to move to Warwick Farms, but that was nothing compared to having the AFL Grand Finals in Perth, or moving the Melbourne Cup to Tasmania.
Randwick has been in operation since 1833. Some Sydney racegoers will utter the blasphemy of referring to Randwick as headquarters, when every sane, lucid person in the world knows that headquarters is Flemington.
Randwick stole a march on its southern rival in 2017, when it staged The Everest for the first time, with prizemoney that enables the race to bill itself as the world’s richest turf race.
As of late 2021, Randwick stages 20 Group 1, 18 Group 2 and 11 Group 3 races.
A more expansive look at Randwick, including salient details about going to the races, can be found at the following link.
Racing History of the Epsom Handicap
With a race of the magnitude of the Epsom Handicap, we expected and found a winners list that is fairly rotten with hall of fame gallopers and top racers from every era.
We cannot cover them all in the allotted space, so we will focus on multiple winners and horses that have achieved the sort of status when their names could be familiar to anyone, even those with nothing more than a passing interest in racing.
Of course, the first winner deserves mention.
It was a horse named Dundee that foaled in 1861.
Most horses of that era were of direct British descent. Dundee’s sire was an Australian stallion named Whalebone, while his dam was Zingara of New Zealand.
The 1873 Epsom Handicap produced a dead heat between Atalanta and Kingfisher. Neither one seems to have made much impact, but they had popular names. We counted 54 Thoroughbreds named Atalanta, all females save for one German horse from 1857. There were comparatively few Kingfishers, just 16, with one female from Great Britain foaled in 1928.
It was 1882 and 1883 when the first multiple winner made the list.
It was Masquerade, a gelding that was not distinguished in any manner.
Nothing on the winners list stood out from Masquerade until the next dual winner came along in 1906 and 1907 in the form of a stallion named Melodrama. Melodrama was by the champion British sire Grafton that was un-raced and sent to Victoria in 1896.
The first significant winner of the Epsom Handicap, in our view, was 1921’s Beauford. This was a better galloper. He raced 37 times for 17 wins and eight placings. He won five major races in 1921, the others being the Tramway Handicap, the Hill Stakes, the Craven Plate and the Railway Handicap. None of those races was above what would become Group 2, so the Epsom was the high point of 1921 for Beauford. His big wins in 1922 were the Rawson Stakes, the All Aged Stakes, Chelmsford Stakes and the AJC Spring Stakes. One or more of his wins was against Gloaming, although Gloaming returned the favour in some other matchups.
There was another dead heat in the 1925 edition of the race between Boaster and Metellus. Neither had much impact, at least in the historical sense, although winning a race of the stature of the Epsom is not the province of average horses.
We arrive at a true champion in 1926, the first time Amounis won the race, which he won again in 1928. His other big wins were the 1927 Cox Plate. Amounis was still going strong in 1930 when he won the Caufield Cup. He beat Phar Lap in the Warwick Stakes of 1930 and Nightmarch in the 1930 All Aged Stakes.
A thorough rundown on Amounis can be found here.
It was almost a foregone conclusion that we would again encounter the name of Nightmarch, because he won the Epsom in 1929.
The year was a good one for this champion galloper. A couple of his other wins from that year were the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup. He was the first to win both those races in the same year, although it should be noted that the Cox Plate only started in 1922. Also worth noting is that while 11 horses have won the Caulfield/Melbourne Cups double, only Nightmarch, Phar Lap, Rising Fast, Saintly and Makybe Diva have won the Cox Plate/Melbourne Cups double.
It was a matter of only a few years before a repeat winner and a notable appeared on the winners list in the form of Chatham.
Chatham was nearly untouchable from 1931 through 1934. He won three Craven Plates and three Linlithgow Stakes, two Cox Plates, A Caulfield Stakes and a Doncaster Handicap.
Gold Rod was the next notable to win the race in 1937. He won 16 races, including Victoria and NSW’s Sires’ Produce Stakes. He was racing in the era that included Ajax, High Caste and Beau Vite. Two years after winning the Epsom, Gold Rod won the Doncaster Handicap.
The aforementioned High Caste was the 1940 winner.
High Caste had 35 wins from 72 jumps with 26 placings. From 1939 through 1941, he won the C. B. Fisher Plate three times, the Caulfield Stakes two times and the Linlithgow Stakes three times.
The next notable winner to come along was Shannon in 1945.
Shannon won many top Australian races, and then went overseas to the U.S. and won more. He and Bernborough were mates in Kentucky, where they stood together. Shannon sired horses that would win more than $4 million. A more complete biography can be found here.
The 1959 winner, Noholme was a familiar name. He was the Australian Horse of the year in 1959, when he won the Epsom and the Cox Plate.
Two years later, the race went to Sky High.
Sky High won 29 times in his 59 jumps, with 19 placings. He won the Canterbury Stakes, Warwick Stakes, Caulfield Stakes and Rawson Stakes each two times.
Sky High’s other major wins, a few of them at least, were the 1960 Golden Slipper Stakes, the Victoria Derby and some other races. His main rival, the one that cost him wins in some of his other races, was the legendary Wenona Girl.
A dual winner appeared next in 1963/64 winner Toi Port. The name is one we have frequently seen on the winners’ lists of other major races and he deserves more credit that he receives.
Skipping forward to 1971, we find Gunsynd winning the Epsom Handicap.
Gunsynd’s racing record almost appears like a racing calendar. He won the Rawson Stakes twice, as he did the VRC Queen Elizabeth Stakes. He had nine wins in 1972, one of those being the Cox Plate.
For more on Gunsynd, click on the following link.
Imposing was the 1979 winner. His other big wins for T. J. Smith were the Stradbroke Handicap and the George Main Stakes. He is perhaps best known for being the sire of the future winner of the Epsom Handicap, Super Impose, but he also sired a Caulfield Cup winner in Imposera.
Imposing had Todman for a sire and Star Kingdom for a grandsire, so that gives some indication of the pedigree Imposing brought to the turf.
Serendipity finds the next big winner of the Epsom Handicap in 1990 and 1991 winner Super Impose.
Super Impose made 74 jumps for 20 wins and 32 placings. In addition to his two Epsom wins, he won to Doncaster Handicaps. He won the Chipping Norton Stakes twice and he won the 1992 Cox Plate.
Even better than having a race named for him, Super Impose has a boozer at Randwick called the Super Impose Bar.
More about Super Impose can be found at the below link.
Shogun Lodge was the winner in 2000.
He won over $4.6 million from 58 jumps for 13 wins and 20 placings. He beat Sunline in the 1999 George Main Stakes, although she extracted revenge in beating him in the 2002 Doncaster Handicap.
Next comes our final dual winner, Desert War from 2004 and 2005.
He nearly won a third Epsom Handicap in 2006, when he lost by a head to Racing To Win.
Winx was the 2016 winner.
There is not much to be said about her that has not already been said, so here we will just say: Four Cox Plates, 33 consecutive wins, career earnings of over $26.4 million and a world record 25 Group 1 wins.
Two of our favourites won the Epsom Handicap in 2017 and 2018.
First was Happy Clapper that won over $7.3 million from 48 jumps for 12 wins and 18 placings. He was the winner of the 2018 Doncaster Handicap and he holds the dubious distinction of running second to Winx on five occasions.
Next was Hartnell.
Like Happy Clapper, he spent a lot of time chasing Winx. The two faced off seven times, with Hartnell finishing second on three occasions. Hartnell can be seen winning the 2018 race at the following link.
Probabeel was the 2020 winner.
She is still racing as of late 2021. This New Zealand mare has earned over $4 million and her last good run produced a win in the Group 1 Caulfield Stakes.
Mile races are popular with the breeders, the trainings and the racing fans of Australia.
The Epsom Handicap has supplied many great champions over its long history and it is easy to imagine that it will continue to do so for the foreseeable and long-term future.
|Year||Epsom Handicap Winner|
|2014||He's Your Man|
|2006||Racing To Win|
|1989||From The Planet|
|1968||Speed Of Sound|
|1948||De La Salle|