Derby delight for racegoers

Big days in sport are the lifeblood for many fanatics.

Events like the FA Cup Final, Wimbledon, the Open, and the Boat Race strike ringing chords of acceptance of their importance within society.

They also share time-honoured characteristics of being distinctly British occasions.

The same could be said for National Hunt racing’s big day out in April, when a bewildering cross-section of society unify for the Grand National at Aintree, but for Flat racing, it really is all about the Derby.

Forget the notable defections and the recent cribbing, sadly considered en vogue in some quarters, nothing comes close to the Epsom jamboree.

Professional observers will argue otherwise – and they would certainly have a case – but who really cares that there is no outstanding competitor this year?

Twelve months ago we were lucky to have Authorized on our side, but in 2006 we were possibly even more fortunate.

In what looked on paper to be a rather humdrum affair, Sir Percy and a cast of a Oscar-winning supporting roles played out one of the most exciting finishes to the race in recent history.

Anything similar this time around will unquestionably mute the dissenters and rejuvenate the romantics.

That New Approach’s team have chosen to stay in Ireland upset the idealists, but we may yet have the Epsom superstar few thought possible a month ago.

Many are convinced Henrythenavigator will not stay the mile and a half around the unique track in Surrey and with the ground a key factor, his participation cannot be relied upon.

However, a stellar ensemble consisting of the likes of Curtain Call, Tartan Bearer and possibly Casual Conquest are still likely to reaffirm our wonder at a race which never lets us down.

The Derby is the pinnacle of a thrilling two-day meeting, with the Juddmonte Oaks and similarly-sponsored Coronation Cup featuring on Friday.

The former is shaping up rather nicely but looks at the mercy of the Irish as Lush Lashes, Katiyra and Chinese White are the three leading contenders for the race.

Roger Charlton may argue otherwise, however, especially if the same Clowance that won at Newbury turns up at Epsom in a similar frame of mind.

The Coronation Cup will also make exceptional viewing and contains an exceptional horse in Getaway, who is a class apart on current form.

Epsom obviously dominates hearts and minds but it would be churlish not to cast an admiring glance across the Pond at the weekend.

After all, history is teetering on the brink of being rewritten in New York on Saturday.

Not since 1978 and Affirmed has a thoroughbred proved exceptional enough to win the Triple Crown.

But with the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby already in safe-keeping, only the Belmont Stakes stands between Big Brown and equine immortality.

FIXTURES (FLAT in capitals)

Monday: CARLISLE, LEICESTER THIRSK (EVE), WINDSOR (EVE)

Tuesday: FOLKESTONE (EVE), RIPON, Sedgefield (EVE), SOUTHWELL

Wednesday: Fontwell, KEMPTON (AW EVE), LINGFIELD, NOTTINGHAM, RIPON (EVE)

Thursday: HAMILTON, LINGFIELD, Newton Abbot, SANDOWN (EVE), Uttoxeter (EVE), Wetherby (EVE)

Friday: BATH (EVE), CATTERICK, DONCASTER (EVE), EPSOM (BBC), GOODWOOD (EVE), WOLVERHAMPTON (EVE)

Saturday: DONCASTER (Channel 4), EPSOM (BBC), LINGFIELD (EVE), MUSSELBURGH (Channel 4), NEWCASTLE (EVE), Worcester

Sunday: BRIGHTON, SOUTHWELL, Worcester

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