It’s last chance saloon for Epsom hopefuls

By Derby House on |



By this stage in proceedings we usually have some idea of what will happen in the Epsom Derby on the first Saturday in June. This year we’ve been left in the dark.

As I predicted in last week’s column, Chester failed to throw up any significant markers for the Blue Riband of the Turf. The Lingfield trials were desperately murky and the Derrinstown Stud Trial at Leopardstown was a non-event due to the absence of the big race favourite. And so we head to York and the 3-day Dante meeting – last chance saloon for Epsom hopefuls!

Will John F Kennedy restore his reputation after his shock defeat earlier this term? Or will Andrew Balding’s Elm Park put a lacklustre public gallop behind him to take the big York prize?

The market leader is John Gosden’s Jack Hobbs who heads the Classic betting following a devastating 12-length rout of some decent performers at Sandown last month. Was it the kind of race to throw up a likely Derby favourite? Not on your nelly; but this is a fallow year by current run-rates and we desperately need those final clues at York. Here’s hoping…


So the Tories have their majority and the anticipated period of darkened room deal-making hasn’t come to pass.

But what of the racing industry? At time of writing, John Whittingdale is the first name out of the blocks, having been appointed culture secretary with specific responsibilities for the racing and betting industries. Mainstream media commentators point to Whittingdale’s appointment as an aggressive move by David Cameron to challenge the supposed left-leaning bias of the BBC (Whittingdale is on record as having grave misgivings over the licence fee), but the impact on racing and betting is likely to be significant.

The glass half-full racing execs see an individual with a track-record of experience and respect gained through a decade on the culture, media and sport select committee. Others might be more circumspect and anxious about just how high up racing’s wish-list will be on the MP’s list of priorities. Either way, things are about to get very interesting.


Just this morning my accreditation arrived for the Epsom Derby meeting. It got me thinking about the racecourses I have the privilege of accessing and how they might rank for that all-important aspect of a raceday: catering.

Endless books have been written about the best racecourse of GB & Ireland, the fairest for horses, the most rewarding for breeders. But I don’t think anyone has tackled the big issue of press room grub. Until now.

Well Epsom is up there.  They used to be unique in offering kedgeree for Derby Day breakfast but they pulled that a few years ago, replacing it with a tuck-shop to go alongside some of the best morning bacon butties in the land.

Ascot takes gold with a menu that would grace many of Central London’s finest restaurants: the fish pie is the stuff of legend and the puddings are enough to distract anyone from a Group One thriller. York is a worthy silver medal winner with locally-sourced fresh produce a unique policy. Newmarket underperforms, relative to its status; Goodwood ups its game for the Glorious meeting only, and Newbury is a bit moderate as is Chester.

Cheltenham is nothing to write home about nor is Sandown who encourage you to go elsewhere on the course for anything beyond Bourbon biscuits. Doncaster is hearty if limited. I could list many more but with York looming large I’m beginning to salivate.


One of the stalwarts of the Press Room – Claude “The Punter’s Pal” Duval, racing correspondent of The Sun – celebrates his 70th birthday next month.

Duval is the only remaining Sun employee to be there when the paper was set up and he is still going strong this summer. We’ll be joining him soon after the Derby in the private room at Scott’s restaurant in London to toast his ongoing success.

Claude may well be a reader of this blog so I can’t reveal who the secret special guests are but once I’ve sobered up, I’ll give you the inside scoop before Royal Ascot begins.


Stop the press! We scored last week with a 10/1 winner as Speculative Bid brought home the bacon (Epsom standards) in last Saturday’s Victoria Cup. Well done if you were on, and don’t be greedy if you are expecting another 10/1 this term. This week we’ll head overseas to see if Kentucky Derby winner American Pharoah is the real deal in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on Saturday night. He’s odds-on to land the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown which is plenty short enough for me, so I’ll dig out an each-way alternative in the shape of Competitive Edge who is a 16/1 chance with at least one firm at time of writing and, to my eye, should be half that price.

Back him to run into a place and extend my winning streak to a record-breaking, unprecedented and never-to-be repeated TWO selections. Good luck!


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