The Derby is in “terminal decline” says Alastair Down

The Derby is in “terminal decline” says Alastair Down

I was always against moving the Derby from its traditional place on a Wednesday to the weekend, writes Vernon Grant.

A racing writer I respect enormously, Alastair Down, was always in favour of moving the race to a Saturday.

But speaking this week, even he admits it was “a catastrophic error.”

Epsom Racecourse stages the most famous flat race in the world. But the Derby is clearly not the attraction it once was.


The move from midweek to weekend is not the only reason. Indeed, the fixture was moved because attendances were on the decline in the latter years when it was held on a Wednesday.

big crowds pack the epsom downs in 1985

A packed Epsom on derby day in 1985

2016 derby suffered from low attendance

2016 Derby winner Harzand parades in front of vast empty spaces. Photo: Richard Austen

So is this merely another indication that flat racing as a whole is not as popular as it once was? You can see virtually empty racecourses every week, but that’s because the racing is poor quality. If attendances and TV viewing figures for the Group 1 Derby are down, surely that is a very worrying sign for the sport as a whole.

Alastair has attended the Derby more times than he can remember. Nobody writes about the sport better and many racing fans still miss his presence on terrestrial television.

the crowds are poor at epsom for the derby, but why?

“The Derby is in terminal decline” says Alastair Down

He says: “I was one of those who were adamant that the race would be enhanced by moving it to the Saturday. It was the progressive, intelligent, modern, good thing to do. But it was a catastrophic error. It’s gone into a more terminal decline as a result.

“It (the Derby) has lost its one off nature. It now competes against a lot of other stuff, some weekends there is major football on. It gets completely lost. It goes down the plug hole.

“It doesn’t tick particular boxes with a lot of regular racegoers. I think that’s very notable.”


Alastair is correct. And the British Horseracing Authority should sit up and listen. Move the Derby back to a Wednesday. Promote the race. Encourage the town of Epsom to do the same. Surely it is in the financial interest of businesses in Epsom and Ewell to be behind this famous race.

Walk through Epsom in the days running up to the race and you wouldn’t know it is the venue for one of the most watched horse races in the world. Try to get a drink in an Epsom pub after the race and you’ll find yourself going thirsty.

The town of Epsom isn’t behind the race. The BHA are behind the times. Flat racing is being left behind and, right now at least, I don’t see it making up ground.

I'm Vernon Grant, also known as the Profitable Punter. For 25 years a TV producer, including of many sports programmes, I have been making an annual profit via betting on horse racing and football since 1998. I analyse all UK racing and football for my members and offer betting tips all year long.


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