Families out in force as youngsters show keen interest in racing
Graham Dench gets among the crowds on a busy morning
If the youngsters attending Epsom's annual open day train on into equally enthusiastic adults then racing's long-term future might be secure after all.
Brothers Aidan and Kieren Monk – no prizes for guessing who they are named after – are aged just six and five but they already have the bug. Their family has no direct connection with racing, yet the boys' enthusiasm and curiosity is as genuine as it is obvious.
When Rishi Persad, hosting the gallops morning attended by 300 or more spectators, invites questions in the brief interludes between gallopers young Aidan, with designs on becoming a commentator, does not hold back.
"How long does it take to get a horse fit?" is the first in a succession of surprisingly pertinent questions, in this instance directed at Laura Mongan, who answers that in the case of last year's St Leger hero Harbour Law, sadly sidelined with a tendon injury, it is a long time, for besides being a big horse Harbour Law is a lazy one.
Encouraged by the response Aidan was getting, nine-year-old Jijjith Thukaram, attending with his parents from nearby Sutton, is soon chipping in too.
"How long does it take to become a trainer," he asks, followed by: "What part does the jockey play when it's the horse who does all of the work; what are the basic needs of a racehorse; do they keep male and female horses separate?" And several more.
Jijjith's hand goes up at every opportunity, so often in fact Persad eventually has to issue what amounts to a gagging order.
Gallops session over, numbers are swelled considerably by those focusing on the stable visits, and buses and cars meander from the adjacent yards of Mick Attwater and Mark Pattinson at Tattenham Corner, to Jim Boyle and Roger Ingram on Burgh Heath Road, on to Simon Dow opposite the racecourse, and finally to the Langley Vale yards of Mongan, Pat Phelan and Adam West.
The opportunity to get up close and personal with the horses and those who look after them is what makes these days special, and another encounter with the Thukaram family offered an insight into what attracts their son, and why they encourage it.
"He loves animals," his mother explains, "and the atmosphere of the racecourse and racing stables, as well as the discipline, competition, hard work and determination that goes into it all."
A coordinated approach by the local trainers, Racing Welfare and Jockey Club racecourses ensures Epsom's 2017 open day is well publicised and with an estimated 1,800 to 2,000 spectators in all – around double last year's figure – basking in glorious sunshine and the local community supporting the event in numbers one could easily forget that all is not entirely rosy within Epsom's racing community.
While Harbour Law's first Classic success by an Epsom-trained horse since Right Tack's 2,000 Guineas in 1969 underlined the area's undoubted assets, Epsom is nothing like the force it was, with too many of the town's historic yards having been redeveloped for housing.
Jim Boyle, itching to progress the ambitious plans he has for his property, insists Epsom is very much on the way back if judged by the effort being put in, but admits infrastructure needs improving.
He says: "The will is there, the desire is there, the trainers are there and we have a massive catchment area. It's a beautiful spot to come and see your horses working – an oasis of calm and beauty – so why would you want to be anywhere else?
"The only thing lacking is the yard infrastructure, and we're on our way to achieving that."
Boyle argues the council would be crazy not to pass his plans, yet the delays seem interminable – and that worries the former local trainers' chairman Pat Phelan, even though his own circumstances rely much less upon them than Boyle's.
Phelan is impatient and argues: "It's generally accepted the training of racehorses brings around £13 million to the borough one way and another and planning issues are not getting the priority they should. There's plenty of to and fro, but this industry needs decisions making.
"Jim should have his planning permission. We dare not let the numbers get below a viable figure. It's essential stables stay as stables and aren't developed. If you lose a stable here you'll never get it back."
Days like this, attended by the chief Downs conservator Liz Frost, can only help.