Good morning from a somewhat damp Epsom Downs racecourse in Surrey, where the track has been getting a bit of a drenching this morning before the Derby, the most famous Classic of them all, at 4.30pm BST this afternoon.
The Queen will unfortunately not be in attendance, as was the original intention when Derby day was chosen to form part of the official jubilee celebrations, but many tens of thousands of her subjects will, to see the first Derby since 2019 with a full crowd in the stands and packed on to the Downs.
There were screens around the track two years ago, when it was run in July and behind closed doors, while just 3,804 paying punters were here in 2021 as Adayar gave Charlie Appleby his second Derby victory.
Several big meetings in the early part of the season, including the May Festival at Chester last month, failed to pull in the fans at pre-pandemic levels, so it will be interesting to see if today’s official crowd matches the 38,044 who turned up three years ago.
Fans with actual tickets, of course, are only part of the story on Derby day, as the race is staged on public land and entrance to the Hill enclosure is, by long-standing tradition, free.
The annual estimate is generally that up to 100,000 people turn up to take advantage, though a wet start to the day may persuade some to follow the Queen’s lead and watch from the sofa instead. It might have been different had she had a runner in the Classic – an estimated 750,000 were at Epsom in 1979 when her colt Milford was in the field – but that possibility finally evaporated a few weeks ago when Reach For The Moon was scratched.
Day-trippers and professionals alike will be looking nervously skywards as the hours and minutes tick away until 4.30pm. It was actually dry overnight at Epsom, with the ground quickening to good at around 8am before the heavens opened and dumped around 3mm on the course over the next couple of hours.
“To all intents and purposes we were dry overnight,” Andrew Cooper, the clerk of the course, told Racing TV just after 10am. “I’m pretty sure we’ll be bringing this back to good, good-to-soft in places as the going description. It produced a Going Stick reading just now of 7.4, and this time yesterday it was 7.1, so it had dried. This rain will be starting to have an effect and bringing us back to where we were yesterday.”
Desert Crown, the favourite, is one of many runners in the 17-strong field that will be stepping up to 12 furlongs for the first time today, and the possibility of softening ground may put at least a faint question mark against him in some punters’ minds.
The fact he is trained by 76-year-old Sir Michael Stoute would make him a hugely popular winner, but he is out to 9-4 in the market this morning as money arrives for Appleby’s Nations Pride, the mount of William Buick, who is in to around 6-1 third-favourite from 15-2 overnight. Changingoftheguard, who proved that he gets every yard of the trip in a well-run Chester Vase, could also be popular if the rain continues.
Some thoughts about the big race and the rest of the ITV card are here, and you can follow all the action – equine and meteorological – here on our live blog as one of the most popular and cherished afternoons in sport unfolds. Happy Derby Day!