There is no debate as to what sport is the most popular in the world, as football has acquired the most fans around the globe. However, there are sports with the aura of mystery and royalty that, even though they do not have as many fans, present an almost religious experience for anyone that follows it for enjoyment, and horse racing is one of those sports. The almost sacred atmosphere of the derby is not something that can easily be put into words, and the transcendental experience of listening to the thunder of the horses’ hooves overpower our heartbeat makes for a very unique impression. The sport has traveled around the globe, and there are numerous races that attract many fans each year, but the two that have found their way into the hearts of both fans and non-fans alike are the Kentucky Derby and the Epsom Derby. Both of these races have a long history, and are well known all around the world, as rivers of people from all corners of the globe flow to fill the stadiums each year, and share a piece of the excitement. But which one of the two is more popular?

The Epsom Derby

The Epsom Derby is so well known among the English that they often just refer to it as ‘The Derby’, and it has been around for quite a while; in fact, the first official Epsom Derby was held in 1780, but the earliest recorded race goes as far back as 1661, and along with Ascot and Doncaster, it is one of the few racecourses that have a few centuries behind them. The Derby, named after the Earl of  Derby, has long been an inspiration to numerous other races, including the very famous Kentucky Derby. It has come to outgrow the horse activities and turned into a huge festival, lasting for several days, and often including musical concerts and other cultural events. One interesting thing about Epsom is that for seventy years, it has had Queen Elizabeth II as its guest.

The Kentucky Derby

Moving on across the pond, we encounter the Kentucky Derby, which is by far the most prestigious horse racing event in the United States. Even though it takes its name after its old British brother, it has become a highly reputable event in itself. It was officially established in 1875, and it has dominated the US horse racing world ever since. Just like Epsom, the Kentucky Derby is also limited to three-year-old horses, and in 1975, it enforced another regulation – it hosts only 20 horses per race. There are other changes that the course underwent during the years; for example, the length of the course was reduced by a quarter-mile, from 1.5 to 1.25.

Despite all changes, the Kentucky Derby still reigns supreme among all similar events in the US, as it has ranked multiple times as the most popular single-day racing event, with up to 150,000 people coming in to watch.

Which one is more popular?

As is often the case with events that have traditions as long as these races do, it is often very hard to tell, especially because one has served as an inspiration to the other. Even though the audience that they attract partially overlaps, there is a significant geographical difference that makes the difference in popularity evident. The US, of course, largely focuses on the Kentucky Derby, which has no real competitors, whereas Epsom has to compete with multiple other highly-ranked racing events in the UK, such as Cheltenham, Ascot, and numerous others. One thing is certain – the fans of both these races are left satisfied with each thrilling race.

By Sam