Epsom confident in Derby bend as Lingfield is latest track to suffer ground woes

Runners in the 1m 2f handicap race down to Tattenham CornerEpsom 4.6.16 Pic: Edward Whitaker
Andrew Cooper will not be changing anything in his preparation of Tattenham Corner despite a spate of ground issues at other tracks with horses slipping on bendsCredit: Edward Whitaker

The British Horseracing Authority will attempt to find out if any causal link can be established between the issues affecting tracks with horses slipping on bends after Lingfield became the fourth venue in six days to suffer such issues.

At the start of a week in which Epsom will play host to arguably the world’s most famous race, clerk of the course Andrew Cooper says the spate of abandonments and fixture alterations will not have a bearing on the way he and his staff prepare the Downs ahead of the Cazoo Derby and Oaks.

Since last Wednesday there have been meetings curtailed at Beverley, Haydock and Chester, while at Lingfield’s turf fixture on Monday William Buick's mount Cu Chulainn slipped turning into the straight during the opening 1m2f handicap.

It resulted in the now familiar sight of a delegation of jockeys and officials heading out to inspect the safety of the track, with the cancellation of the remaining two races on the round course while the four due to be run up the straight survived.

Clerk of the course George Hill said: "William Buick’s horse slipped at the bottom of the hill just turning into the straight in race one and following an inspection it was deemed not safe to continue with races two and three."

EPSOM, ENGLAND - MAY 23: Clerk of the Course, Andrew Cooper at Epsom Racecourse on May 23, 2022 in Epsom, England. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)
Clerk of the Course Andrew Cooper at Epsom on MondayCredit: Alan Crowhurst (Getty Images)

Lingfield's Derby and Oaks Trial in early May is popular because its home bend resembles that of Epsom, causing some to fear this week's Classics could be marred by the same problem.

Reflecting on the additional scrutiny of how Tattenham Corner rides in the wake of recent events, Cooper said: "I’m sure a lot of people are scratching their heads as to quite what has brought about this recent spate of incidents, no more so than the courses themselves, who are all very well-versed in how they prepare their bends, just as we are at both Epsom and Sandown.

"Sandown in particular has a very established routine in terms of aeration in the build up to a race meeting."

Cooper, who has one of the most high-profile jobs among any clerk in the country looking after the Derby and Oaks at Epsom as well as neighbouring Sandown, reported the ground at Epsom on Monday remained good, good to soft in places.

However, he highlighted the home straight on the Friday Oaks line as being slightly easier than the rest of the track and the four yard strip over the final three furlongs being preserved for Derby day itself.

He added: "Epsom is a bit more fragile and you can destabilise it if you do too much verti-drain and aeration. We’ve more often taken the attitude of getting a little bit more give in it, trying to make sure there’s some cut in the hill, which in theory should help."

Cooper said he had not heard or seen any compelling evidence of a common thread between the affected courses, either in terms of moisture on top of quick ground or bend alignment.

"In terms of Epsom, I wouldn't be suddenly thinking of doing anything different in terms of ground preparation here because we have quite an established process and cut-off time for watering.

"Experience over the years at both Sandown and Epsom has shown us what is the most sensible way we can prepare these bends and hopefully they will ride fine."

Third Realm David Egan wins from Adayar -William BuickThe Novibet Derby Trial Stakes (Listed Race) Lingfield Park 8.5.2021©mark
Lingfield became the fourth turf course in the space of a week to experience issues with horses slipping on the bendCredit: Mark Cranham

The BHA has already been consulting on what lessons could be learned from the three previous abandonments before Lingfield's ground issues.

A spokesperson said on Monday afternoon: "The BHA is speaking to the racecourses, participants and our teams of course inspectors to determine whether any common cause can be found between the four fixtures which have been impacted by race cancellations."

Martin Cruddace, chief executive of Lingfield’s parent company Arena Racing, accused the BHA of "a failure to innovate" in turning down their request to transfer the two remaining round course races to the all-weather track.

The BHA has already allowed Lingfield's entire summer turf programme, starting on June 4, to be moved to the all-weather in order to allow drainage work on the turf track that should aid winter jumps fixtures.

With four meetings now either abandoned or curtailed, the number of owners and trainers voicing their frustration continues to grow, with Group 1-winning trainer Eve Johnson Houghton calling for the BHA to issue fines to tracks that failed to ensure a safe racing surface.

Johnson Houghton was due to saddle Bascinet in the 1m2f handicap and Schilthorn in 1m1f novice stakes, but was left without a runner on the card after the abandonments and was frustrated at the inconsistencies in sanctioning courses who fail to fulfil their obligations.

"The clerk of the course has one job and that is to provide safe racing ground," Johnson Houghton told the Racing Post.

"If I get something wrong as a trainer I get fined. If I forget to put cheekpieces on and I want to put cheekpieces on after ten o’clock I can do it, but I get fined for it. Everything we do, the BHA fines us for.

"Everyone else in racing seems to be able to do what they like and get away with it. They ought to be heavily fined and sanctioned. As a trainer we can’t do anything wrong, if we do anything the slightest bit wrong we get fined.

"They ought to be more professional, they have one job and that’s to make a safe racing surface and they seem to be incapable of doing it."

Eve Johnson Houghton after Chipotle winsThe Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed Race) Royal Ascot  16.6.21©mark
Eve Johnson Houghton: has called for stronger punishments to courses and clerks if they cannot fulfil a fixtureCredit: Mark Cranham (

In a statement released via its Twitter account, Lingfield said that owners who had horses entered in the two abandoned races and jockeys who have been left without a ride as a result would be compensated.

Racegoers will also be offered a complimentary ticket to a future race meeting at the course, while a credit will be applied to on-course bookmakers who stood at Lingfield on Monday, which they will be able to claim at a future meeting.

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Scott BurtonFrance correspondent