Racing: Still unique, but in need of changes: Is the Derby just another British institution in decline? Ian Davies canvasses the views of the experts

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The Independent Online
PAUL COLE - Trainer

THERE are too many guards, too many gatemen, too many different enclosures and restrictions placed on the general public. People are now simply voting with their feet by staying away. It's no good building all these courtesy boxes. In my view they should do away with Tattersalls enclosures, Grandstand enclosures, the Silver Ring and the like. This sort of segregation is really out of date.

As to the race itself, it's becoming too much of a rich man's race. The very early entry stage means that only a wealthy man can afford to commit his horses by paying entry fees which may well be money thrown away as it's far too early to know if a horse will be good enough to run.

HENRY CECIL - Trainer

THE Derby is all about tradition. It has always been a great race and always will be. Its tremendous prestige is such that races all over the world are named after it.

I still think that the best three-year-olds are trained for the race. The fact that the brilliant 2,000 Guineas winner Zafonic won't be running is simply down to the fact that Zafonic is a miler and the Derby is a mile and a half race.

It's a big test of a horse and that's what makes it the race it is. In my trips to Epsom in recent years, I've seen no evidence of a diminishing atmosphere.

MIKE CHANNON - Former footballer

now trainer

IT'S still a very hard race to win. A great occasion. I haven't got anything good enough to run in it this year but, if I had, I wouldn't let high entry fees stop me.

ANDREW COOPER - Manager of Epsom

AS FAR as scare stories about the size and quality of this year's Derby field go, if anyone can name a horse that, the Prix du Jockey Club aside, is of sufficient ability and stamina to be in the Epsom Derby field this Wednesday - and isn't - I'd like to know what its name is. One useful horse, Beneficial, missed out on being entered and that did look a shame after he won at Chester. However, since then he has been beaten at Goodwood, by Geisway, who does run in the Derby.

It is an indisputable fact that there has been a fairly dramatic drop in the attendance for the Derby in the last half dozen years or so. However, it used to be too crowded and we needed a bit of thinning out. There were about 26,000 paying customers last year and, frankly, we wouldn't want any more. And you have to remember that, on top of that, there were about 100,000 people watching the race free on Epsom Downs, which is common land.

The Derby remains the one race all Flat owners, trainers and jockeys want to win more than any other and, along with the Grand National, is one of the two horse races all the general public identify with.

ALAN MUNRO - Jockey

THE drop in attendance is due to increased TV coverage of the event. It's still a great race. You can bet there will be plenty of horses taking on Tenby on Wednesday.

WILLIE CARSON - Jockey

NOT the race it used to be? What a load of bollocks] It's bigger now than it ever was. There's nothing wrong with the entry system - name one horse that should be running next Wednesday which isn't. There's no point a horse like Zafonic running. He's sprint-bred. He did well to last a mile. What's the point in running a horse which won't stay?

As for the attendance falling, in the 1920s the only way to see the race was to go to Epsom. Now you have radio, television, satellite, SIS in betting shops. Fifty-six million people worldwide will watch the Derby on Wednesday, so where's your drop in attendance?

Only someone who knows nothing about racing would suggest the Derby isn't the race it used to be.

PETER CHAPPLE-HYAM - Trainer

IT'S still the greatest race in the world. We've been in an economic recession and there hasn't been the money about there used to be. That's why people can't afford to go racing at the moment. Epsom is a great racecourse and the new stand is a big improvement.

If anything, the earlier entry fee makes the race less of a rich man's race. Whereas in the past it cost pounds 2,000-3,000 to enter, now a small owner can enter his horse as a yearling for a mere pounds 100. Then a year later he can decide if it's worth staying in the race.

If Tenby, Commander In Chief, Armiger and Regency were all owned by different men instead of by Khalid Abdullah, they would all be taking each other on in the Derby. But, that's like saying without Eric Cantona Manchester United wouldn't have won the League. It doesn't mean anything. They are owned by Khalid Abdullah and that's the way the cookie crumbles.

JOHN REID - Jockey

THE Derby still attracts the best horses. Khalid Abdullah may have a strong hand and not choose to run all his top three-year-olds but he is running the best of those horses - Tenby. Some years one owner holds all the aces, some years it's wide-open, sometimes the field is small, sometimes it's big. That's the way it's always been and always will be.

The Derby is run over the right distance, and though possibly a bit early in the year, it's usually the best three-year-old throughout the year that wins it. Epsom isn't a fair track. It's the toughest in the country in fact. But that's why the Derby is the race it is. The horse that wins the Derby has proved it can do everything. Gallop uphill, downhill, left and right-handed.

EDWARD GILLESPIE - Manager of Cheltenham racecourse

WELL, I love the Derby. I won't be going this year but I usually do and I love the whole occasion. I go round the fairgrounds, can have my palm read without looking as if I've lost my marbles, I really enjoy the occasion.

I was on the team working at Epsom for six years in the 1970s and there is a problem in terms of the changing nature of the spectators. Time was when people thrilled to the idea of picnicking on Epsom Downs, sitting in the great outdoors, but that market is fast disappearing.

The notion that people are still attracted by such a low-tech experience is a hangover from the 1950s and 1960s. Nowadays people have much higher expectactions in terms of value for money from a day out. The image of the event needs to change. There is no longer any social cachet attached to the idea of going to the Derby in the way there is of going to Royal Ascot or perhaps even the Cheltenham Festival.

Don't get me wrong, I think the people at Epsom do a great job with what they've got. Unfortunately what they've got isn't that great.

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