Racing / 215th Derby: Ryan a victim of heavy traffic: A rough race sparked calls for change. Greg Wood reports

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The Independent Online
WILLIE RYAN, who was unseated from Foyer in the Derby, had recovered sufficiently to be discharged from Epsom General Hospital last night. Ryan collided with a plastic rail and broke three ribs when Foyer clipped the heels of King's Theatre six furlongs from home and bounced his jockey from the saddle.

The fall occurred at the fastest part of the course, as the big field raced downhill towards Tattenham Corner, and Ryan was fortunate to escape serious injury. A good position is held to be essential around Epsom's twisting circuit and as a result Derby jockeys expect little quarter, but yesterday's race was the roughest for some years. Ryan was the principal casualty, but not the only one.

'I nearly joined Willie on the floor,' Richard Quinn, who rode the unplaced Waiting, said. 'Colonel Collins clipped my heels at the bottom of the hill.' Michael Hills, who rode Broadway Flyer, said: 'He got knocked about, and after a rough time he lost his stride and lost his action. It's very disappointing.'

Yesterday's 25-strong field was the largest since 1978, and almost a third started at odds of 100-1 or more. Some riders felt that the high percentage of no-hopers was the major cause of interference, rather than simple weight of numbers.

Several of the outsiders set a furious pace, trying to give their owners the thrill of leading in the Derby. Most were exhausted with almost a mile to run, and dropped back through the field just as the major players tried to get a position with the crucial turn at Tattenham Corner approaching.

'There were too many horses in there who weren't good enough to be in the race,' Willie Carson, who rode the winner, Erhaab, said. 'Walter Swinburn was out of his saddle twice, and John Reid was in the air too.' Michael Kinane, who finished second on King's Theatre, said: 'There were lots of bad horses coming back through the field and bunching us up.'

Four years ago, concern that the standard of runners in the Grand National was contributing to accidents and injuries prompted the introduction of a quality threshold. Kinane believes a similar system could be applied to the Derby, but the suggestion ignores the fact that, unlike ageing steeplechasers, Derby entries are usually lightly-raced and difficult to assess with any accuracy.

A stewards' inquiry was called to investigate Ryan's fall, at which Quinn, Kinane, Pat Eddery (the rider of Sunshack) and Philip Robinson (The Flying Phantom) gave evidence. The inquiry was adjourned, however, to allow Ryan to be interviewed. Major Michael Webster, the clerk of the course, said: 'I cannot comment on the safety of the runners or the standard of horses involved until after the inquiry. We do not know when this will take place.'