Pride at the prize-money on offer was the theme emanating from the Epsom executive yesterday as they began the run-up to the Derby with a briefing that took place at the store where The Queen buys her groceries, Fortnum & Mason. Despite holding this briefing on the fringes of the antiques department, the intention was not to reflect on 213 years of the Derby, but to look ahead to a time when it might regain its prestige among the planet's most important races. The intention is that the Derby should become the third most valuable race in the world within five years and the first step towards that goal will take place next Wednesday when the pounds 750,000 on the table will represent a record pot and a 26 per cent increase on last year.
'This places the Derby seventh in the world table of unrestricted races,' Tim Neligan, the managing director of Epsom's owners, United Racecourses, said. 'That puts it ahead of every Classic in Europe and every race in the United States bar the Breeders' Cup Classic and Turf. Only those two Breeders' Cup races, the Japan Cup, Melbourne Cup, Golden Slipper and the Arc remain ahead in prize-money.
'And it will not stop at three-quarters of a million,' Neligan said. 'Our aim is to have a million-pound Derby within five years. That would place us in third position behind the Breeders' Cup Classic and the Japan Cup.'
Restoration of the race cannot come too soon. For all the money put up next week, the race lacks real quality in depth and certainly does not merit a position among the elite. Attendances too have suffered as the race has lost some of its attraction and last year's paying crowd of 21,452 was less than half the figure achieved until the late Eighties.
For those that do turn up on the downs next Wednesday there will be a better chance than ever of seeing the runners before the race - and not just because of the gaps in the crowd. The contestants will no longer walk to the start via the narrow path through gypsy caravans and the outer fringes of the crowd that left them prey to what the Epsom executive descibed yesterday as 'ebullient persons'. Instead they will canter the wrong way round the course and thus past all the enclosures.
Those that are already out of puff by that stage can be deemed unlikely to get the trip, and foremost in that category is the 2,000 Guineas runner-up, Barathea. He worked left-handed over 10 furlongs - two furlongs further than he has ever raced - at Newmarket yesterday, the idea being to simulate the turns experienced at Epsom. The gallop produced a fairly non-committal remark from his trainer, Luca Cumani. 'There is no guarantee he will stay one and a half miles, but I'm happy with his well-being,' he said.
Attention is again on Newmarket Heath today when Tenby steps on to the training grounds after a lacklustre show in a gallop on Saturday when he finished last of four in his group.
Henry Cecil's belief in his horse remains unshaken. 'Tenby is on course for Epsom. I am generally pleased with him, contrary to many reports in the racing press,' was yesterday's bulletin on the favourite.
A legal error led yesterday to an inquiry under the Jockey Club's new rules against 'non-triers' being abandoned. The inquiry, into a possible breach of the rules by trainer Gordon Richards and jockey Michael Moloney, had to be dropped because solicitors acting for the Club failed to make written advice available. The pair had been summoned to the Club's headquarters to explain the running of Ninfa at Carlisle on 9 February.
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