Magazine article The Spectator

Leave Well Alone

Magazine article The Spectator

Leave Well Alone

Article excerpt

Sometimes I fear the sun-dried tomato syndrome is taking over the whole of life. Why cannot a chef give you a Caesar Salad any more without adding a sprinkling of beetroot crisps or a creme brulee without chucking candied cherries on the bottom? Even in a Zimbabwean game reserve last week they could not serve me a steak without dousing it in orange sauce.

Classics should be left alone, and that applies to the Derby too. Nobody thinks of training ivy up Nelson's column or swapping Big Ben for something sponsored and digital and, with the 221st race due to be run at Epsom this Saturday, it is time the would-be `modernisers' left the Blue Riband of the Turf alone. Run it later in the year, urge the experimentalists. Cut back the distance from a mile and a half. Take it away from Epsom's switchback to a flatter course. Phooey. If they think they can create a better race in which owners and trainers would prefer to enter their horses, then let them do so. The true test of the Derby is that, as Sue Ellen, the managing director of United Racecourses, puts it, `It is still the race everyone wants to win.'

Part of the argument used by those seeking change is that no horse has won the Triple Crown of 2,000 Guineas, Derby and St Leger since Nijinsky; and, with the first of those run over a straight mile at Newmarket, the second over a mile and a half of Epsom gradients five weeks later and the third over one and three quarter miles at Doncaster in September, nobody is likely to. Compare that, they say, with the American Triple Crown which involves the Kentucky Derby over ten furlongs, the Preakness over nine and a half furlongs and the Belmont over 12. It is more achievable and several times in recent years topclass horses have at least won two of the three legs. (The snag with the American Triple Crown is that the three races come within six weeks.)

But winning one top-class race like the Derby is dream enough for most people, so who is going to carry home the prize from Epsom this year? It has been a formidably difficult year for trainers, with wet and cold weather bringing constant hold-ups in their work. Although his stable is now running into form, Henry Cecil's equine blue bloods like Beat Hollow and Wellbeing have suffered from mucky lungs. Aidan O'Brien is sending Aristotle from Ballydoyle to Epsom after just one prep race at Longchamp when there appeared to be steering problems, and the various Derby trials have produced no outstanding candidate. …

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