Derby Day mixer of lager and champagne: Marianne Macdonald studies the form as the Queen and commoners share a day out on the Epsom Downs

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THE DAY had started so well, with clear skies and a heaven-sent opportunity to dress up and drink lager and champagne. Kathy Davis, 59, had defeated arthritis to make her annual pilgrimage to the Derby from Wimbledon in south London, armed with cheap buns and an umbrella for fear of rain.

She was looking forward to seeing the Queen, and sure enough there was Her Majesty proceeding up the track, waving graciously, in time for the 2.15 race. Behind her sailed the Queen Mother, tousled in salmon pink. 'Hope it's not fish for dinner,' said a man to his friend.

The first spots of rain fell at 1pm, but they could not destroy the ebullience of the crowd which seethed between the terraces, the burger van and the Shergar Bar, fighting politely for seats.

Martin Paton, 24, was just the kind of young person the Derby wants to attract. He had come from Scotland with five fellow barmen especially for the race; they sported kilts and plastic glasses of lager.

At the bar one hat confided in outrage to another: 'A gypsy just took my money. She gave me a flower, I opened my wallet and she took pounds 20 . . . ' Outside It was getting distinctly wet. The women who had sacrificed practicality for sartorial splendour looked anxious.

In the lavatory republicanism was apparent. 'I suppose we might put some money on the Queen's horse in the 2.45,' said one girl as she applied lipstick. 'It's her Coronation Day after all, it must be significant.' 'Poor old thing,' sighed her friend. They spoke too soon. The Queen's horse, Enharmonic, won the race.

Then came the moment that should have been Tenby's. At 3.45 the race was off, and, clutching their copies of Sporting Life, the crowd screamed and stamped.

'Tenby]' shrieked the Racing Post studied by the man in braces and horn-rims. His girlfriend perched beside him, uncomfortable in a pleated dress, cartwheel hat and suede heels.

Opposite, three carpenters read the Sporting Life and discussed Tenby's form. He was a sure-fire Derby winner. From the bookies, to the touts, to the hats, Tenby was the Promised Horse.

Squeezing up against the fences, and rising as one on the terraces, they bayed for Tenby, the favourite, ridden by Pat Eddery. But what was this? Bob's Return had pulled ahead and coming up behind was Commander in Chief. The crowd held its breath, and Commander in Chief shot past, a clear winner. Extraordinary. But Edward Lawlor, 67, of Northampton, watched unimpressed. 'Thirty years ago you couldn't move at the Derby. It's gone right off,' he said. Most of the crowd - at least those who had bet on the favourite - no doubt agreed.

The Derby, pages 37, 40

(Photograph omitted)