Racing: Tradition last in Saturday stakes

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The Independent Online
A long-running fight between tradition and money seemed close to a conclusion yesterday, as tradition returned to its corner bruised and reeling. A cheerful - some might say smug - air of satisfaction united the management of Epsom racecourse and all but confirmed that the Derby will be run on a Saturday next year for the first time since 1953.

A weekend Derby has long been the course's ambition, but the objections of local traders and residents have protected the premier Classic's position on the first Wednesday in June. However, the new management team has forced the issue.

'It is our intention to run the Derby on Saturday and it will be the biggest day's racing of the year in Britain, if not Europe,' Edward Gillespie, Epsom's managing director, said yesterday, though his bold prediction will ring hollow if the deplorable quality of the Classic's present supporting card is not substantially improved. 'All will be revealed on 3 October, when we will also announce the name of the national company which will be the new sponsor.'

Money again. In Epsom's search for a new Derby sponsor following the withdrawal of Ever Ready, the possibility of a Saturday race was probably a vital bargaining chip. More cash will also find its way to the course, thanks to a bigger crowd, and the bookmakers, through increased betting turnover.

A concerted propaganda campaign by these interested parties has convinced many that a weekend Derby is, quite simply, a Good Thing. But no-one bothered to ask the racegoers for whom the first Wednesday in June has long held almost spiritual significance.

Paying attendance - many thousands picnic for free on the Downs - has been in decline, but the course should perhaps address the ticket prices (extortionate) and facilities (poor-to-dreadful in all but the gleaming new members' stand) before assuming that the abandonment of tradition offers an easy solution.

The only regular Derby- goer whose views were taken into account was the Queen. The belief that she might be unable to attend a Sunday Derby seems to have prevented an even more radical move. But unless it transpires that following the cricket scores on Teletext is an essential part of the Royal weekend, Derby day next year will surely be Saturday, 10 June.