In the aftermath of last year's dismal Derby, the course's management have had the whips out to convince us that Saturday really is best for the Blue Riband. More than 150,000 local homes have had their junk mail swollen and the promotional spend has risen from pounds 80,000 to pounds 150,000, most of it on a public-relations firm.
All 400 of the corporate boxes (pounds 3,500 a time, food an optional extra) have gone and the projection is for a crowd of 60,000. The rich and famous in the grandstands, however, will not be the barometer of success in this year's Derby. That will be measured by how many folk squeeze into the infield known as the Hill, by how many people plonk their bottoms not on a lounge armchair or seat at one of the day's other sporting attractions, but a blanket spread over some Surrey downland.
United Racecourses have done just about all they can do. Promotion of the race has been ubiquitous and the tested draw card of inviting celebrities has again been employed (Frank Bruno is among them and it is to be hoped the event does not end up in the position he usually finds himself in on a Saturday night). Now the organisers will discover if they have been waving a flannel over a temporarily stunned patient or a corpse.
Meetings are already scheduled for next week to discuss the return to a Wednesday Derby. This afternoon will determine whether those assemblies are back-slapping exercises or crisis talks.
What organisers need most this afternoon is fine weather and a winner who provides a story to jostle with others on the sports pages. The former is guaranteed and the latter has good prospects also as this is one of the most open and eclectic Derbys for many years.
Among the better fancied horses, perhaps the least magical result would be victory for Dushyantor, whose jockey, trainer and owner have won many times before. Dushyantor, it has to be said, is unaware that he would be providing a stodgy tale. He is a half-brother to the 1993 winner Commander In Chief, but physically is a different animal, a fine and dainty thing compared to the Commander's chunky figure. His run when second in the Dante Stakes at York last month suggested he has inherited the family ability.
Until last week, Dushyantor was a laggard on the Newmarket gallops, being regularly outshone by the likes of Shaamit and Double Leaf. While Shaamit has an immediate precedent for a horse winning the Derby on his seasonal debut, it must be remembered that 12 months ago it took an animal of Lammtarra's rare brilliance to achieve it.
Double Leaf could give a cheetah a head start on the trial grounds, but he has yet to transfer that brilliance to the racecourse. (This regular phenomenon explains why some characters at the racecourse have a sun tan that lasts as long as the calendar).
Of the animals which contested the 2,000 Guineas, Alhaarth looks the best qualified as he had to wade through the softer ground up the centre of the course. The winter betting liabilities on Dick Hern's colt mean he is a bad price, though.
Even Top finished ahead of Alhaarth at Newmarket, but may have been flattered. His is the sort of breeding you usually find between two doorsteps in a Belgian delicatessen and the pedigree pundits will have smoking pistols at their temples should he succeed. On the balance of his form he should not.
More value lies with Chief Contender, who broke the course record at Salisbury last month. The colt was by no means the No 1 hope at Peter Chapple-Hyam's Manton yard at the season's outset but he is now the only one left standing. He has already proved this journey is within his capacity and as one form line makes him a similar horse to the one-time ante-post favourite Dr Massini, 33-1 looks too big a price.
Chief Contender, though, has not participated in a recognised trial, unlike Glory Of Dancer, who has run in two. Paul Kelleway took over the colt following the Gran Criterium at San Siro last November, when Glory Of Dancer ran as if he had a pebble in his plimsoll but still managed to win.
On the form of his Dante Stakes victory he has to be the choice but there are plenty who consider that he will not be suited by the track and that his stamina will not last out. Kelleway is not among them. "He'll stay the trip because he keeps a lot in the tank for himself," he says. "He never uses too much petrol on the gallops, so he hasn't worn himself out."
Neither does Kelleway, it seems, align himself with those who believe that Olivier Peslier, Glory Of Dancer's French rider, will be a weak link. "Don't give me that crap about English jockeys knowing the track because they will be about as wise as he [Peslier] is on Derby day," he says. "They don't ride enough over the course. They don't go round every week."
Kelleway uses other words that are not in the vicarage lexicon, and he is the sort of voluble character that the organisers would like to see victorious. They should get their wish and Kelleway may still be talking tonight when one set of stars has gone home and another has emerged above him. GLORY OF DANCER (nap 2.25) can win.
THE EXPERTS' PREDICTIONS
1. Glory Of Dancer
1. Storm Trooper
2. Glory Of Dancer
3. Double Leaf
2. Glory Of Dancer
3. Mystic Knight
Jack JenningsReuse content