Fortune smiles on the Downs

Andrew Baker seeks to foresee the future of the Derby as a Saturday fixture
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The Independent Online
THE bookmakers were the real winners of yesterday's Derby. Lammtarra, at 14-1, was the longest-priced winner since Secreto won at the same odds in 1984, and the horses who attracted the most money ante-post, Pennekamp and Spectrum, finished well down the field.

Pennekamp, the vanquisher of Celtic Swing in the 2,000 Guineas, had been touted as a potential candidate for racing's Triple Crown of 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger. But the 11-8 favourite was never really in contention and was clearly in trouble as the field swept into the finishing straight. After the race, his trainer, Andre Fabre, said: "He finished lame and was injured coming down the hill."

Spectrum, the second favourite, trailed in 13th and was also found to be lame after the race. His jockey, John Reid, reported: "I was all at sea by the time we got to the bottom of the hill and I virtually pulled him up." But the saddest casualty of the day was a horse who never had a chance of winning in the first place. Daffaq, who was only in the field as a pacemaker for the unplaced Munwar, fractured a knee and had to be put down.

The official attendance at Epsom Downs was 54,266, a rise of three per cent on last year, which seems to suggest that moving the race to Saturday failed to attract a new audience. But the figure does not include those watching the race for free from the infield and the hill at Tattenham Corner - precisely those spur-of-the-moment punters most likely to be attracted to the event at the weekend.

The "High Street" on the infield, where gypsies read palms and opportunistic traders sell everything from lacy underwear to chip-slicers, was crowded long before racing. By the time the sun had come out and the Derby runners were assembling, the area was packed. The paying customers may have reacted slowly to the notion of a Saturday Derby: those who come along for a free, fun day out know a good thing when they see it.

Gipsy Lee, who dispenses wisdom from a smart little caravan, has been coming to Epsom throughout her long life. What was her prediction for the future of the Derby as a Saturday fixture? "It'll be a great success," she pronounced. "For all goers and comers will come."

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