A number of trial races for the Derby are run between April and late May, both in England and Ireland, and of which the following are the most significant.
The Ballysax Stakes is a Group 3 race run over 1 mile 2 furlongs at Leopardstown in April. It is now run in memory of Patrick W. McGrath (died 2001), a former chairman of the Racing Board (a precursor of Horse Racing Ireland), which purchased Leopardstown Racecourse in 1967.
The race was promoted to Group 3 status in 2003 having previously been classed as a Listed race. Prior to 1993 it took place at the Curragh.
The race has a good record for finding subsequent Derby winners. Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002) triumphed here before going on to win at Epsom. In addition, 2000 Derby winner, Sinndar, finished second in the Ballysax, while the 2010 Ballysax winner, Fame and Glory, was second in the big race to the brilliant Sea The Stars.
This year's winner, Banimpire, is not entered in the Derby, but the third that day, Recital, is and he looks the number one hope for the powerful Aiden O'Brien yard.
Sandown Classic Trial
The Sandown Classic Trial is a Group 3 race run over 1 mile 2 furlongs at Sandown Park in late April.
The most recent Derby winners to have run in the Sandown Classic Trial are Shahrastani (won trial in 1986) and Benny the Dip (runner-up in 1997), who both went on to win the Dante Stakes before victory at Epsom.
The race is currently sponsored by Betfred and takes place at a meeting which also features the last big race of the National Hunt season, the Betfred (formerly Whitbread) Gold Cup.
This year's renewal was won by Genius Beast for Goldolphin, but he disappointed on his subsequent start in France and is unlikely to make the Derby line up.
The 2000 Guineas is the first Classic of the Flat season in England.
The race is for three-year-old colts and fillies, and is run on the Saturday of the Guineas meeting at Newmarket in late April or early May, with the 1,000 Guineas, for three-year-old fillies, run the following day.
Both races are one mile contests and are run on the famous Rowley Mile course, which is named after King Charles II (Old Rowley), who founded the Newmarket meetings in the 17th century.
The first 2,000 Guineas was run in 1809 and was won by a horse called Wizard. He was owned by Christopher Wilson, trained by T Perren and ridden by Bill Clift, who were also responsible for the first 1,000 Guineas winner. The race takes its name from the original guaranteed prize fund of 2,000 guineas.
Although the 2,000 Guineas is open to fillies, only four have ever achieved the 1,000/2,000 double. The last of these was Sceptre in 1902 and, remarkably, she was also successful in the Oaks and the St Leger.
Prior to Sea The Stars in 2010, the brilliant Nashwan was the last horse to complete the 2,000 Guineas, Derby double, whilst was the legendary Nijinsky was the last to win the English Triple Crown (2,000 Guineas, Derby, St Ledger).
Sadly, this year's brilliant Guineas winer, Frankel, looks set to be campaigned at a mile in the near future and so bypasses the Derby in favour of Royal Ascot.
The Chester Vase is a Group 3 race run over 1 mile 4 furlongs at Chester in May.
It was first run in 1907 and the most recent Derby winner to have contested the Chester Vase is Quest for Fame, who was second in 1990. The runner-up in 2006, Dragon Dancer, went on to finish a close second at Epsom to Sir Percy, and the winner in 2007, Soldier of Fortune, finished fifth in the Derby, but subsequently won the Irish Derby.
This year's winner, Treasure Island, looks likely to be one of many horses representing Aiden O'Brien and Coolmore in the big race itself. Runner-up, Nathanial, is also set to take his chance.
The Dee Stakes is a Group 3 race also run at Chester in May, this time over a distance of 1 mile and 2 furlongs.
The race dates back to the early 19th century and is named after the River Dee which runs alongside the racecourse. Recent winners who went on to be successful in the Derby include Oath and Kris Kin, while the 1990 winner, Blue Stag, went on to finish second at Epsom. The race was promoted to Group 3 status in 2003 having previously been a Listed contest.
This year's winner, Glen's Diamond, is a gelding and therefore not eligible to run in the Derby.
Lingfield Derby Trial
The Lingfield Derby Trial is a Group 3 race run over 1 mile 3 furlongs at Lingfield Park in May.
The undulating, left-handed course at Lingfield bears a close resemblance to the course at Epsom, making it an excellent venue for a Derby trial. The trial was first run in 1932 and the very first winner, April the Fifth, trained by the actor Tom Walls went on to win that year's Derby. The seven subsequent Derby winners to have won this trial to date are Mid-day Sun, Tulyar, Parthia, Teenoso, Slip Anchor, Kahyasi and High-Rise.
This year's one-two are both trained by Mark Johnston, but neither is amongst the latest entries for the Derby.
Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial
The Derrinstown Stud Derby Trial is a Group 2 race run over a distance of 1 mile 2 furlongs at Leopardstown in May.
It was first run in 1971 and was known until 1983 as the Nijinsky Stakes, after Nijinsky, winner of the English Triple Crown in 1970. The race's title was changed to the Derby Trial Stakes in 1984, at which time it held Group 2 status. It was downgraded to Group 3 class in the early 1990s, but it was promoted back to Group 2 level in 2003.
In recent years the race has been won by several subsequent winners of the Derby including Sinndar (2000), Galileo (2001) and High Chaparral (2002).
This year's winner, Recital, is amongst the ante-post favourites for the Derby.
York's Group 2 Dante Stakes is staged on the second day of the Knavesmire's May Festival meeting.
Last year's Derby winner, Workforce, was second in the Dante, 2007 Derby winer, Authorized, was successful here whilst in 2005, the ten-furlong contest was won by the Derby winner, Motivator. North Light’s success in 2004 further reinforces the Dante's status as the leading Derby trial.
The race commemorates the 1945 Derby winner Dante, trained by Matthew Peacock, who remains the last northern trained horse to win a Derby.
Dante was bred and owned by Sir Eric Ohlson and enjoyed a brilliant juvenile season, winning all six of the races he contested, including a wartime substitute Coventry Stakes at Newmarket and the Middle Park Stakes.
The horse became an idol in the north of England, and there was consternation when he was beaten a neck in the 2000 Guineas by Court Martial, having been sent off the even-money favourite.
Despite the Guineas setback, Dante was sent off the 100-30 favourite for the Derby, staged at Newmarket, and, with the Peacock stable jockey Billy Nevett in the saddle, Dante justified his odds by winning by two lengths from Midas. Court Martial was a neck away in third place.
York first staged a race in commemoration of Dante in 1958, when royal trainer Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochfort triumphed with Bald Eagle, ridden by Harry Carr. It is fitting that a key York race, which still produces Derby winners, should recall Yorkshire's last winner of Epsom’s blue riband event.
This year's renewal saw the Queen's Carlton House, beat Seville and there is every chance that one or other of them will continue the fine run of form of Dante runners in the Derby.
The Glasgow Stakes is a Listed race run over 1 mile 3 furlongs at Hamilton Park in mid May.
Prior to 2005 it was run at York over 1 mile 2 furlongs, gaining Listed status in 1999. Whilst it is one of the more minor trial races, it was notably won in 1993 by the subsequent Derby winner Commander in Chief. The 1995 winner Tamure went on to finish runner-up in the Derby to Lammtarra.
This year, the Glasgow Stakes has moved from its usual pre-Derby slot in May to a date in July.
Cocked Hat (previously Predominate) Stakes, Goodwood
The Predominate Stakes is the feature race of Goodwood's three-day May meeting. It is a Listed race run over one mile and three furlongs.
Goodwood’s idiosyncratic course is another ideal place to test the constitution of a Derby aspirant as it has many characteristics in common with Epsom’s helter skelter track.
The Predominate Stakes commemorates one of the great Goodwood heroes of the last half century, and was first staged in 1970, when it was won by the Queen's Charlton, trained by Major Dick Hern.
Hern went on to win the race on five further occasions, most notably with Troy, the only Derby winner to have landed the Predominate en route to Epsom glory. The race has, however, been won by its share of high class horses, including Hern's subsequent 1988 St Leger winner, Minster Son and Dubai Millennium in 1999.
The Irish-bred Predominate enjoyed a successful career on the Flat and then won twice over hurdles, before being purchased by the owner and breeder Jim Joel, who envisaged him becoming a leading hurdler. Predominate had other ideas, however, and was switched back to racing on the level.
Trained at Newmarket by Ted Leader and ridden by Eph Smith, Predominate landed the Goodwood Stakes in three successive years from 1958, winning in 1959 and 1960 under the burden of 9st 5lb. He also won the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Ascot in 1960 and the Goodwood Cup in 1961, when aged nine.
With a mile to go in the Cup, Eph Smith felt that the horse had broken down and was prepared to pull him up. Predominate would have none of it, though, and triumphed by a short head. That was his last race, so it is appropriate that Goodwood honours this talented and courageous horse.
Rewilding was successful at Goodwood last year before runner a blinder to finish third in the Derby and this year's winner, Masked Marvel, could be a lively outsider in the big race for John Gosden.