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A day at "The Derby" at Epsom Downs by Vivek Jain

Posted on - 07 Jun 2013

A day at “The Derby” at Epsom Downs by Vivek Jain
 
During my tenure as Chairman of the RWITC, I was privileged to be invited to, and attend some of the best racing in the world- Royal Ascot, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, at Istanbul during the ARC, and at the Singapore Turf Club for the first ever RWITC Cup last July. An important missing link was the most famous race in the world- The Epsom Derby, and I was delighted to be there this year on June 1st.  I hope I can attend The Melbourne Cup later this year, and that would be the icing on the cake!
 
Sponsored by Investec, the race is simply called The Investec Derby, without the word “English” or “Epsom” pre fixed, possibly because this race is the Derby!  With a total prize fund of Pounds Sterling 1,379,500  (about Rs 12 crore), it is surely one of the richest races in the world, but way behind the $10 million Dubai World Cup. But in terms of heritage and prestige, it surely is at the top of the pecking order of the most prestigious classics in the world.
 
Leaving Central London by 10am, the pretty drive to Epsom took an hour flat, and  unusually not as busy as was expected.  This gave me time to view the premises and the facilities before joining select invitees for lunch in the Jockey Club Room in the exclusive Queen’s Stand with a spectacular view of the finish. To keep with the compulsory dress code I had to hire a morning suit, which means tails and hat and that meant being part of the crowd! A vast difference from Indian Derby day, where a stunning array of dress and style dot the lawns. However, in the U.K. its all about heritage, and the fashion is restricted to ladies gowns and the hats!
 
A welcome surprise for me was the presence of Dr.Cyrus Poonawalla at the lunch, a regular and avid visitor to the Derby for “decades” as he told me, and spotted regularly at Royal Ascot and for the Arc. Over a leisurely few hours, Cyrus filled me on his international racing experience, and introduced me to some of the stalwarts of British racing. Together we shared thoughts on how the race course compared with ours at Mahalaxmi, and despite the splendid ambience, so much more could be done to improve the viewing experience~ to start with the need for much larger race track LED screens. On the plus side was the strict security to enter the paddock, and it was virtually impossible to enter it unless you were an owner/ trainer with a runner. Another feature were the short and crisp trophy presentations with the minimum of fanfare, though I do believe the extravaganza of our Derby presentation on the main track, puts us in a very special league!
 
Interestingly the first person I met at Epsom was the under enquiry Martin Dwyer! We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I moved on..
 
The attendance fell 5,000 short of last year’s 125,000 to prove the point that racing is finding it increasingly difficult to hold its audiences. Also, the course is so vast, with a huge number in the carnival setting in the centre, that it never feels like 100,000+.  Infact Mahalaxmi’s 30,000 feels far more full than Epsom with three times as many!
 
I must also comment that Derby Day atmosphere at Mahalaxmi is incomparable. The setting at Epsom is far more sedate and sombre, and especially from the Queen’s Stand, it hardly felt like we were watching one of the grandest races in the world!  However the pomp and pageantry is fantastic. The Rolls Royce motorcade at 1pm, followed by the Queen’s presence on the track, to the accompaniment of the British National Anthem, sends a shiver down the spine for sheer class and elegance!
 
The race itself was expected to be dominated by the Irish trainer Aiden O’ Brien, who had already won this race three times, including Camelot last year. Aiden had as many as five of the dozen runners, though the 11 to 4 favourite was the unbeaten Dawn Approach. Another highlight was that the world’s most prolific stallion Galileo, who stands in Ireland, and who had five of his progeny represented, four of which were saddled by Aiden. Interestingly I didn’t see one paper or television channel tip Dawn Approach, on the ground he would not stay, and yet he was installed firm favourite on his class.
 
I had tipped the winner Ruler of the World, as he appeared to be the most improving staying type horse, and infact my friend Sanjay Shah and myself exchanged a text message well before the race, and his choice too was the winner!  As the race was run, the favourite never settled and had to be checked all the way by his regular partner Kevin Manning, and he shot his bolt soon after taking over the running around Tattenham Corner. The aptly named winner stormed home under an impeccable ridden by one of the best in the world- Ryan Moore, giving his owners- John Magnier, M Tabor and D Smith, a record fourth Derby win- the most by any ownership!  Another noteworthy statistic was draw 10 has had the most number of Derbywinners and you guessed right- the winner was drawn 10!
 
Interestingly Jim Bolger, who trains Dawn Approach, runs a genetic testing company, Equinome, and this breeder-trainer himself concluded that the favourite would much prefer shorter trips, but was yet installed firm favourite!  The pick of the race was probably Libertarian, trained by a woman, who finished on when the race was over. Libertarian is byNew Approach, the sire of Dawm Approach, and who sired the Oaks winner, Talent, the previous day.
 
As Racing Post said on the morning of the day, “This year there may not be a British winner, but this is a very special British occasion. In the year that marks the centenary of the day Emily Davidson suffered fatal injuries at the hooves of the King’s horse, the Derby also reaches its 60th anniversary of Sir Gordon Richards only Derby win, the 30th of Lester Piggot’s last..History assures us that on Derby Day the Derby rules supreme” 
 
And yes it was the Ruler of the World that finally reined supreme and proved to be the monarch of the racing world in a truly royal setting!

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