While thoroughly conscious of the fact that it is a huge privilege to be one of the very few people who will watch the 2020 Derby live, it has to be said that arriving at Epsom on the biggest day of the Flat racing year with scarcely a soul to be seen anywhere on the downs is an experience that I very much hope never to repeat.
The efforts that have been made to ensure that the racing public stays away from Epsom today are impressive. The whole area is fenced off, the main road down to the grandstand is closed and there are security personnel guarding every potential entry or vantage point. The entry procedures for us lucky few in attendance are thorough, too. There won’t be any cheeky punters slipping in through the gate.
But no race or event feeds off its crowd quite like this one, which has been attracting huge gatherings to Epsom for nearly a quarter of a millennium. It did not matter quite so much at Ascot a few weeks ago, but in future years, the replay of this year’s Derby will always be immediately identifiable as 2020, thanks to the lack of double-decker buses lining the rail on the inside of the track. There will be no roar to set the runners on their way, no packed grandstand to acclaim the best three-year-old colt (and filly, because it is Oaks day too) of their generation.
And the Derby in particular is packed with headline-grabbing potential. Frankie Dettori will attempt to give Ed Walker a win with his first runner in the Classic aboard the (likely) favourite, English King, Aidan O’Brien has six runners as he seeks an all-time record eighth winner, and Kameko goes for Andrew Balding, 49 years after his father, Ian, won with Mill Reef. There is another father-son combination in the race too, as Paul and Oliver Cole jointly send Highland Chief to post, 29 years after Cole snr won with Generous.
English King is now only the likely favourite as Walker’s colt has drifted to 4-1 with several firms, just half a point in front of Kameko, while there has also been plenty of money for O’Brien’s Russian Emperor, top-priced at 11-2 to give Seamie Heffernan a second successive win in the Classic.
Chris Cook’s tips and analysis of today’s card and Classics are here, while you can follow all the news on the going, the betting and everything else Epsom-related here throughout the day. The first race here is at 1.50pm, the Oaks is off at 3.40pm and the Derby itself at 4.55pm, when there will hopefully be an audience of millions to make up for the lack of punters at the track.