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Wednesday, 24 July 2019

What is the Great Metropolitan Handicap?


It's a question I doubt many will have the answer to. Since 1985, the Great Metropolitan Handicap has become just another middle distance handicap, albeit run over the same course and distance as the Derby – that is, a mile and a half on Epsom Downs – but, in its modern incarnation, is a pale imitation of the race which, in its heyday, was contested by first rate horses. The Great Metropolitan Handicap was devised by London publican Samuel Powell Beeton, who banded together with other licensees and bookmakers to sponsor a race – one of the first of its kind in Britain – at the Epsom Spring Meeting.

Inaugurated in 1846, ‘The Publicans’ Derby’, as the race was known in its early years, was originally run over the extreme distance of two and a quarter miles. Participants started at the winning post, ran the ‘wrong’ way up the straight, nearly as far as Tattenham Corner, before meandering across the North Downs to rejoin the racecourse ‘proper’ at the mile marker.

While the North Downs was public land, not ideal for horse racing, in terms of maintenance, the Great Metropolitan Handicap continued in its original, unique form for over a century. Indeed, in 1947, it had the distinction of being the first horse race in Britain in which the newly-introduced photo-finish camera was used to determine the result.

However, 1985 marked the end of an era, when the distance of the Great Metropolitan Handicap was reduced to a mile and a half and the race was run, for the first time, the ‘right’ way round on the Derby Course. In 2018, total prize money for the Great Metropolitan Handicap was £25,000 which, in real terms, is substantially less – in fact, just over £11,000 less, accounting for inflation – than the £300 raised by Beeton and his associates to sponsor the inaugural running of the race.




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