Epsom Derby lacks a convincing favourite

By David Williams on |

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A trip to Epsom earlier this week for the Investec-sponsored Breakfast With The Stars helped to inject some much needed enthusiasm (reader’s of this blog will remember that I am underwhelmed so far…).

What did we learn? Well, in brief:

Frankie Dettori is excited about his favourite in the big race but warns us not to forget about his “other” horse Jack Hobbs; Andrew Balding thinks his Elm Park will love it but many work-watchers feared that Epsom might not suit him come the big day; Dermot Weld knows his Zawraq is special but can’t disguise his concerns over the trip; Ballydoyle don’t have a stand-out colt so might even think about running the filly Found.

So all in all, a total mess, an unconvincing favourite and with little over a week to go, we have all but run out of time. I’m already worried about next week’s blog!

LUCK OF THE IRISH

Other than in the dedicated racing press, the Prince of Wales’s visit to Sligo racecourse in Ireland last week, accompanied by Camilla, went largely unnoticed but it certainly put me in mind of Ireland’s racing gems – the small racecourses that mean so much.

I ought to confess to a clear bias at this stage. I met my fiancée on an Irish racecourse: we were both at the Punchestown Festival where love was bound to blossom after a long day at the hospitality trough.

Half a dozen years on, as we prepare for our wedding in the shadow of Fairyhouse racecourse in County Meath, it’s ever more clear to me that the Sligos of this world are more than a match for their more fashionable and high-profile racecourse relatives such as Leopardstown and the Curragh.

On my bucket list is a trip to Killarney. For my sins I’ve never been to Galway – as their Festival always clashes with our very own Glorious Goodwood. But top of the list, and I refuse to be swayed by all the locals who tell me not to bother, I want to race at Roscommon. I’ve driven past it a few times heading West for a weekend in Mayo and am convinced that behind those yellow walls lies paradise.

The best things in Ireland are often hidden away (or lurking at the hospitality trough).

WEEKEND BURN OUT?

It’s hardly surprising that the best racing is geared up towards Saturdays (or Sundays if you’re Irish). Weekends are a time for sport, right? If you or I ran a racecourse group or a catering contract, we’d be minded to go for the default option of getting the turnstiles clicking on a Saturday. They can hardly be blamed.

But as I enjoyed a brilliant Thursday evening of racing at Sandown yesterday – with Group races, red-hot handicaps and a real atmosphere – I can’t help but lament the dearth of midweek action.

Nowhere is this more vividly felt than as we head towards the Derby. Many readers will remember Epsom bouncing to the swell of over a hundred thousand racegoers early in June – on a Wednesday.

Obviously with my betting hat on I can hardly countenance a return from Saturday to Wednesday for what remains the biggest race of the entire Summer, but there are other weekends which are far too full.

The switch of the July Cup a few years ago to a Saturday in July which is already brimming with great action from Ascot, Chester and York especially, was short-sighted.

The weekends become bloated whilst the mid weeks look bare. A bit of common sense in the fixture distribution needs to break out before we all wake up to the fact that too much of a good thing can be a big old turn off.

THANK GOODNESS FOR FOOTBALL

It might seem churlish to chuckle quietly at the extraordinary events unraveling in real time in Zurich this week as high-profile members of FIFA are in the process of getting arrested.

Yes, we have our rogues, not all of them loveable, but when you hold us up against the gluttonous overkill of commercial greed in football, we can stand tall and proud.

Once again, football is mired in controversy on the biggest stage of all – it’s mega-money executives under the microscope for alleged financial foul play over a period of decades.

Racing, of course, is no stranger to controversy and corruption and we grimace when the part-time media brandish our sport as being bent at birth. Yes, we have our rogues, not all of them loveable, but when you hold us up against the gluttonous overkill of commercial greed in football, we can stand tall and proud. Racing has much to be proud of.

A TIP

Since providing a winning tip three weeks ago, I’ve not tipped a loser…. This, of course, is due to my quite uncanny ability to find two consecutive non-runners in the past fortnight for which I apologise. Hopefully you weren’t on with any antepost vouchers?!

As referenced earlier, this weekend lacks a bit of sparkle so I will look ahead to next Friday and the Oaks. Andre Fabre is a genius and if Al Naamah doesn’t go very close under Gregory Benoist I will eat my hat, as Paddy Ashdown once said. I can’t remember what happened next……….

Good luck!


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