Does a small Derby field matter?

Tattenham corner

Tomorrow’s Derby field of nine runners is the smallest for over 100 years, since Orby won in 1907. He was the first Irish trained winner of the race, and also the first to complete the double of winning the English and Irish Derby. Over the next few weeks there’s a clear possibility that Camelot will become another Irish trained horse to complete the double.

Does it matter that he has only eight other horses lining up alongside him tomorrow? Does a small field diminish the achievement of the winner in any way? One man well qualified to answer those questions is Peter O’Sullevan, who has been watching the race since his childhood days over 80 years ago.

He says, “You can understand why owners of no-hopers want to run in the Derby, but when they drop back through the field that can cause problems.”

His view is that a small field is of no consequence – it’s the quality that comes through. He says, “There is an enormous advantage of a small field to the gifted horses. Regardless of the field size, it will be a serious spectacle because it is the Derby. To win you have to be the best over an uncompromising, different course.”

Those differences include a climb of 110 feet from the start, a steady downhill run of half a mile, all on the turn, and the famous Epsom camber, with the track sloping down to the inside rail on the home straight. It will be a new experience for all the horses, and also some of the jockeys. Of the nine involved in tomorrow’s race only two, Jamie Spencer (3rd in 2002) and Ryan Moore (1st 2010 and two places) have had any degree of success in the race. Hayley Turner and Joseph O’Brien are having their first rides in the race.

Yes, it’s a small field, but it still has the potential for making history. A first female jockey to win? Very unlikely. A first father and son to train and ride the winner? Far more probable.

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