Saturday, 5 June 2010

The Quirkiness and Magnificence of Derby Day - The World's Greatest Flat Race

Derby Day remains one of the big sporting days of the year and really sets up a tremendous sporting Summer (the World Cup is only five days away).

The misty eyed nostalgics might complain about the race being on a Saturday (it used to be held on a Wednesday and Parliament didn't sit on Derby day) but they should accept that the Derby is remaining on a Saturday and it has retained its place as a key national event.

A few years ago people were complaining that the Derby was losing its cache both in bloodstock and racing terms. A mile and a half was seen as an unattractive distance when the bloodstock world put an emphasis on speed rather than stamina. The doom-mongers told us that the Derby winners weren't as good as they used to be.

The doom-mongers have, of course, been proven entirely wrong. In the past few years we have had Derby winners that will be ranked alongside the greats. Sea The Stars last year proved that he deserves a place among racing's immortals. Galileo, High Chapparal and Authorized must surely be ranked up there with previous Derby winners.

It may not have the money of the Dubai World Cup, the razzmattaz of the Breeders' Cup or the sheer class of the Arc but the Derby offers a unique test of a racehorse, as well as a remarkable history. As Aidan O'Brien says, "The whole thoroughbred breed is about the Derby — it’s why these horses are bred."

And Derby Day itself has recovered its national cache. Epsom is buzzing on the day. 150,000 people line the Downs - a whole mixture of people from all kinds of backgrounds. A day that attracts the Duke and the dustman and feels like one great big party across the Downs.

This year might lack the obvious superstar of previous years (always too early to write off a generation of thoroughbreds) but looks a fascinating puzzle. I would love to see Bullet Train win for the great Henry Cecil. What a story that would be.

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