125,000 people flock to the Epsom Downs each year to witness the greatest Flat race in the world – the Investec Derby Festival. A quintessentially English racing meet steeped in history and drama… and the hats are pretty amazing too!
The thunder of hooves, the roars of the crowds – all against a backdrop of the gorgeous Epsom Downs, this is the ultimate experience in Flat racing. But how does it all take place so seamlessly? And what happens during the rest of the year? Who are the faces behind the races?
We met with Craig Williamson, Estate Manager; and Dominic Toole, Stable Manager – two of Epsom’s finest. With over 40 years’ experience between them, they’ve seen it all.
What does an average day look like?
Craig: I oversee everything that goes on outside – all the grass areas. You can plan well in advance but there is never an average day if you’re working outside. Everything is completely dependent on the weather. On the track, I work with the Clerk of the Course to make sure it’s prepared to the highest standards for race meets. The focus is the safety of the horse when it’s going round the course.
Dominic: An average day for me is looking after the upkeep and maintenance for Epsom and Sandown racecourses. It’s like looking after your house, making sure everything is clean and tidy – the guttering is clear, the grass is weeded and mowed, the stables are tidy and ready for any horses arriving.
What is the best thing about your job?
Craig: Being part of such an iconic event. It transcends the race, it’s something unique in the sporting calendar and it’s a privilege to be a part of that.
What is your favourite thing about the Investec Derby Festival?
Dominic: For me, it’s watching the stable staff. These guys spend all their time with the horses and are very close to them. They will have exercised and cared for the horses, especially during the run up to the Derby.
It’s incredible to see their faces as they lead their horses up to the racecourse – it sounds silly, but you see all their hopes and dreams in that walk. And watching the person bring back the winner is really special – it’s a once in a lifetime experience for that stable hand, it’s a dream come true for them.
What’s the atmosphere like?
Craig: There’s so many different areas of people there, on the hill, high end hospitality. But everyone is having a good time. It’s a happy and cheerful atmosphere. It’s a race for the people and that shows on Derby day.
Do you have a fun fact about the Derby that you’d like to share?
Dominic: Since 1987–8, every time there’s been a Derby winner, a nameplate has been made up that goes on the side of the stable where the horse had stayed on the day. Last year, we made up a nameplate for Golden Horn outside box number 8.
And finally, describe the Investec Derby Festival in three words?
Dominic: Challenging, adrenaline, excitement.
Craig: Atmospheric, colourful, unique.