Magazine article The Spectator

Sue Ellen to the Rescue

Magazine article The Spectator

Sue Ellen to the Rescue

Article excerpt

Last year the Derby clashed with the European Cup. This year, those seeking to restore the premier Classic to its former glory have been faced by the handicap of an odds-on favourite, with nobody giving anything else in the race much chance of beating the 2,000 Guineas winner Entrepreneur. Tote spokesman Rob Hartnett has suggested that somebody might call in a priest to administer the last rites to the betting market in advance of this week's race. But one person undeterred is the elegant new driving force behind the efforts to bring the crowds back to Epsom and the glory back to the race itself.

Sue Ellen, who has taken over since last year's race as managing director of United Racecourses, is an Epsom girl. Wisely she says, `There is no such thing as an Epsom certainty.' The undulating track with its uphill start, the pell-mell rush down to Tattenham Corner and the slanted rise in the finishing straight provide a unique test of horse and rider. They need agility in negotiating the gradients, speed to be up with the pace and keep clear of trouble, and stamina up that lung-bursting finishing stretch. Also required is the big-match temperament to handle the crowds. Until you have run a horse at Epsom you just do not know whether he will be found wanting in one or more of those departments, and so Entrepreneur is not home and hosed yet. Nor would Sue Ellen be too worried if the favourite were to win in the style of a true champion. For there is nothing like the sight of sheer quality to create that 'I was there' feeling which is the other precious assets of our heritage sporting events.

The gloom about the Derby in recent years has been hopelessly overdone. We no longer live in a society where half of London is going to close down for the day for 300,000 to flock to the Epsom Downs. But, if Sue Ellen is realistic enough to concede the race has lost a little of its sparkle and crowd-pulling power, she is quick to come back when I contrast its public appeal with the Grand National, an event which still has the ignorant and informed alike swapping their selections at the supermarket tills. A dozen years ago, she reminds me, the National, too, was in decline, Aintree itself in receivership. There are problems in achieving the same excitement about the Derby. At Aintree the equine stars have been around for several seasons. The Derby for the past two years has been won by horses which have not run before in the same season and which were off to stud at the end of their three-year-old careers. …

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