This year’s Vodafone Derby, which takes place at Epsom Downs racecourse next weekend has been beset by a spate of problems in recent days.
News of a strangles outbreak in a livery yard just 200 yards from the racecourse broke on Monday evening, which provoked Epsom officials to cancel ‘Breakfast with the Stars’ which was due to go ahead on Wednesday morning. Derby contenders Salford City and Pukka had been scheduled to be worked on the track at the event.
Strangles is a highly-infectious disease, but Jockey Club officials are confident that there is no threat to the Derby meeting, and horses on the course would not be at risk.
John Maxse, public relations director at the Jockey Club explained: “Although strangles is a highly contagious disease, it doesn’t tend to travel through the air, and so although the proximity of the livery stables to the racecourse is a concern, it should not be an impediment to the running of the Derby
“Breakfast With the Stars was merely an opportunity for trainers to show off their runners to the media etc., and they, perfectly reasonable, didn’t want to take any kind of risk at this stage,” he added.
Meanwhile, in an ongoing dispute over contracts, stall handlers could walk out the day before the Derby meeting begins, so that Epsom could be faced with the embarrassment of having to start races at the showcase meeting with a jumps-style flip start.
Although a flip start is by no means perfect, it is a mechanism which is in place at all flat courses in the country, to be used in the event that technical problems with stalls or ground problems prevent a stalls start.
Stall handlers, who are employed by Racetech, have rejected their employers’ latest offer. Racetech has been struggling since the Levy Board decided to drop starting stalls from its integrity grant, offloading the costs onto racecourses.
Stall handlers are unhappy about RaceTech’s plans to remove their right to claim accommodation and subsistence expenses when their jobs keep them away from home. The 23 full-time handlers, who earn about £21,000 a year for what is frequently a 60-hour week, believe this could cost them as much as £7,500 annually
To add to these problems, hot Derby favourite Yeats was the subject of an injury scare at the weekend. The Aidan O’Brien-trained colt was reported to have been a “shade stiff” 24 hours after a routine work gallop at the trainer’s base. It was hoped to be nothing more than a possible muscle tweak, and the colt is expected to be fighting fit for the race on 5 June, but the situation is being closely monitored.