Spectacle short on theatricals
Jamie Reid searches in vain for the atmosphere of Derby Days past
Sunday 09 June 1996
Never mind the gossip about whether the Newmarket B team of Paul Kelleway, Mark Tompkins and Willie Haggas were really up to training a Derby winner. And never mind such academic questions as to whether Dushyantor or Storm Trooper was the pick of Henry Cecil's two runners. The big issue in the minds of the Epsom director, Edward Gillespie, and his staff was, "Would anybody turn up to watch?".
When Gillespie's employers, the Jockey Club-owned Racecourse Holdings Trust, took over the running of Epsom in 1994, they were quick to move the day of the Derby from the traditional first Wednesday in June to the following Saturday. This, we were assured, would revive public interest and boost betting turnover. But last year's Saturday Derby failed to achieve either of those objectives, and so with much more competition around than 12 months ago, this summer's running would revert to its customary slot. Right?
Wrong. Gillespie declared this spring that RHT were engaged in a three- year commercial experiment, and apparently there was no room for "short- termism". A concession to the sporting realities of 1996 would be to schedule an earlier start to the classic, allowing the public the opportunity to readjust their minds, and TV sets, before 3pm.
And so the world's most prestigious thoroughbred horse race was sent off at 2.25pm, sandwiched between a six-furlong handicap and a low-octane affair for apprentices. As a piece of theatrical timing, this was on a par with being shown into a smart restaurant, asking for the menu and then having the main course shoved into your lap before you had even had time to order a drink. The race was thrilling, the result popular and for about two and a half minutes the place was humming. But as a spectacle, it was over far too soon.
Of course, the racing professionals and serious freeloaders packed into the boxes in the Queen's Stand were as numerous as ever, and Gillespie was talking about upwards of 60,000 paying spectators. But what about the ordinary and once- a-year punters? How had they responded? Were there still picnics on the downs, open-top buses, gypsies, and cockneys knocking back the beer and the jellied eels?
They were there if you looked for them, although Hogarth might have been distressed to observe how quickly some of the latter transferred their loyalty to the football on the television screens in the bars. And while the crowding in the stands was quite populist for some, when you looked out on to the hill there was nothing like the great teeming mass of humanity historically associated with Derby Day.
Maybe none of this matters. Maybe yesterday's mixture was as good as it gets and we should all just be grateful for the munificent patronage of Vodafone. And maybe those memories of half a million people cheering on Dancing Brave and Shahrastani on a Wednesday only 10 years ago are just one man's nostalgic fantasies. Maybe.
Latest in Sport
Royal Rumble 2015: Roman Reigns triumphs after The Rock returns to set-up Wrestlemania showdown with Brock Lesnar
Google trolls Tottenham with Oxford dictionary definition of 'lackadaisical'
Gabriel Paulista: Talented Brazilian could grow into world-class defender at Arsenal
Phil Neville backtracks on Tomas Rosicky 'I'd smash him' comments from Match of the Day 2
Floyd Mayweather ends the carnival this week and picks his next fight - but will it be Amir Khan, Manny Pacquiao or Miguel Cotto
- 1 Double chins could be 'cured' without surgery or dieting using new injection
- 2 The BBC has just done more to eradicate ‘terrorism’ than all our wars since 9/11
- 3 Dog thinks owner is drowning in lake, dives in and tries to pull him out
- 5 Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
£125 - £150 per day + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: A 'wonderful primary ...
£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Our client is an 11-16 mixed commun...
£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly developing company in...
Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Application Architect/Developer - Peterborough, Cam...