What is the difference between Derby and Oaks races?

The Derby and Oaks races are two of the classics in UK horse racing but there is a subtle difference between the pair

Derby and Oaks horse racing betting guide


Horse racing boffins love to talk about the Big Five in UK racing, which includes the Epsom Derby and the Oaks. These — along with the 2,000 Guineas, the 1,000 Guineas and the St Leger Stakes — make up the British Classics.

But what is the difference between Derby and Oaks races? Both have been copied across the world, with many countries adding their unique twist onto these race types.

Well, Paddy Power is here to explain all with our beginners introduction to the Derby and Oaks, as part of our Demystifying Racing series of guides! Once you’ve read our guide you’ll be able to bet on racing with confidence during Epsom. So let’s take a look at what it’s all about…

What is the Oaks in horse racing?

The Oaks is an abbreviated term for the Epsom Oaks, which runs at the historic Epsom Downs racecourse every spring. It is a flat race run across 1 mile, 4 furlongs and 10 yards, and boasts a prize pot of £250,000.

The criteria for the Oaks is that only fillies — a female horse — aged three years old can run. They each carry nine stone in weight. This is important when we look at the difference between the Derby and Oaks. It also means no horse can ever win the race multiple times, but certainly signifies that champions are likely to go on to even greater things.

The Oaks is one of the oldest UK horse races still running and has produced champions down the years such as Taghrooda, Ouija Board, Petit Etoile and Pretty Polly.

The Oaks betting guide

The Oaks is open to fillies aged three years old (Image: GETTY)


The Derby is arguably the more famous of the two races and is also run at Epsom, which is why you’ll often hear it referred to as the Epsom Derby. This race is over the same distance as the Epsom Oaks, but the prize pot is almost double. It is also open to three-year-old colts, geldings or fillies, rather than just the latter.

So famous is the Derby and so popular is it among racing betting fans, that the term has been used for many other races around the world, with the Irish Derby, the New Zealand Derby and Singapore Derby all being staged.

Workforce shattered the race record in 2010 on his charge to Derby victory, while iconic horse Shergar won the race in 1981 by 10 lengths.

Epsom Derby trophy

The Epsom Derby trophy is a cherished trophy in horse racing (Image: GETTY)


The Derby and Oaks races both stem from the same origin. The Oaks was devised by the 12th Earl of Derby and his friends in 1778 and run on his land a year later. To commemorate the inaugural running of the Oaks, another race — the Derby — was created in 1780. Both have run at Epsom ever since and have produced some iconic moments down the centuries.

Indeed, the two races have made Epsom Downs famous over the centuries but were actually moved during the First and Second World Wars to Newmarket.


Many casual racing fans love to bet specifically on the Derby because of the fanfare that surrounds the race — much like the Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup. Indeed, the Derby is considered one of the top races in the country and naturally draws a big crowd.

Much horse racing betting activity is placed on the winner of the race, while Paddy Power’s sportsbook features Derby betting specials every year. So, keep the first Saturday of June booked in your calendar and be sure to check out the odds!



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