Sunday, 4 June 2017

THE DIMINISHING EPSOM DERBY







From 1977 to 2017, 40 years have passed. In horse racing, once a set in stone sport with its future secure and safe, there would be relatively little change compared to other major sports in that window of time.But we live now in a climate where trends, patterns, ways of life change constantly and quickly. And the well being of horse racing does not sit comfortable alongside this chaos.

A good starting point for monitor the health of a sport is to look at the biggest showcase events of all. We had the Epsom Derby yesterday if anyone noticed. Going in to the 1977 Derby the race had indeed long lost its claim to being the 'biggest sporting event in the world', a spurious claim made on crowd attendance, chiefly on Epsom Downs where the figures at best were a guess.

But it still had that something, had a Wednesday slot and the stage to itself, had plenty of press coverage in the build up to the event with a generous amount of newspaper space afforded to it in the Sunday papers preceding the race.

It also had Lester Piggott. A household name for the right reasons.We don't have his equivalent now - in fact the only flat rider the general public are familiar with is Frankie Dettori and that is mainly down to the exuberance that he portrays to the public, whether real or pretend. He does flying dismounts, smiles, laughs, appears in adverts , looks into the camera and plays the funny guy. They may know that he once rode many winners on a single day and made some people rich.

Going into yesterday's race hardly anyone with no interest in the sport will have heard of Ryan Moore. And none of them at all will have known who William Buick or James Doyle are. They may now on the other hand know that Padraig Beggy is a ' world class jockey' as described by Aidan O'Brien. If they delved further they have have then become rather confused at discovering that he had only ridden three winners in the past year.

And what of the balance of power ownership wise. Well, we know you ain't going to get rags to riches purchases like what could happen for a Grand National or Cheltenham Gold Cup, but it's always more reassuring to see a spread through the ownership ranks.

The 1977 Derby field had 22 runners. apart from M V O'Brien training three, The Minstrel, Be My Guest and Valinsky, the rest of the 19 runners had separate trainers. All the runners were in separate ownership.

Fast forward to 2017 we had four owned by Godolphin and six connected to Magnier/Tabor/Smith, Trainer wise O'Brien and Gosden where responsible for 11 of the  18 runners.

Try explaining this to a new face curious about the sport if you can find one. It must sound like something not too dissimilar to a Tour De France format,Team O'Brien and Team Gosden just like Team Sky. Not something that endears itself to a part interested onlooker.

And the Saturday slot which some believe to be a success ,to have breathed new life into the race. Well, was anyone  able to find it ?

Despite there being no Grand Prix practice, a session which in itself is more popular than horse racing, there was still a mouth watering Champion's League final in Cardiff to look forward to. Yesterday the upcoming match would have been  discussed in bars up and down the country during the afternoon, punters just as likely to be discussing their footy bet than their Epsom one. Some good Cricket, rugger in the morning, French Open Tennis too.

Racing cannot hold court and has become subservient to other sports. When the God that is the English Premiership is in season, racing has to set off times for feature events that don't clash with live play even though the large majority of the  footy 'audience ' are only watching people sitting in a studio who themselves are watching the action on a screen.

40 years ago Lester Piggott and The Minstrel chased down and caught Willie Carson and Hot Grove in an unforgettable renewal. It was a  captivating occasion and anyone watching the sport for the first time would have come away thinking that this game was agreeable at worst.

Yesterday's race looked at best an ordinary renewal. It would hardly have won over any real new fans and I would go so far to say that for a larger percentage of the public than ever before, the race silently and invisibly passed them by.




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