Epsom racecourse has changed dramatically over the last 20 years; two new stands were built (the Queen’s Stand in 1993 and the Duchess’s Stand in 2009); the parade ring moved and a hotel was built.
One person, however, has been a constant at Epsom and has brought about many of the integral changes that make the racecourse one of the most prestigious in the UK. That person is Andrew Cooper, Epsom’s Clerk of the Course.
Former Law graduate, Andrew moved into the racing administration in 1985; gaining his clerk’s licence in 1990 – his first meeting was a Kempton Jumps fixture in January 1990. Andrew went on to manage clerking duties in Sandown Park in 1994 and Epsom in 1996, where he has stayed since.
As Clerk of the course: what does your role entail?
I am responsible for the safe and proper conduct of the day’s racing. My area concerns the racing aspect of the event, so horses, jockeys, trainers, medical and veterinary teams, state of the course. If anything should go wrong in these areas it’s down to the Clerk of the Course to sort out.On a non-raceday I am in charge of the fixture list, the races we run, prize money, and the overall maintenance of the racecourse.
Briefly describe a day in your role
A race-day would start at 6am with a walk of the course, to check for and update on any overnight changes such as rain or frost. Before racing starts I will liaise with the respective officials, contractors and staff who help run the day’s racing; such as British Horseracing Authority officials, vets, doctors and stewards. I am then overseeing the teams – a bit like a ringmaster and step in if anything goes wrong or needs changing. A quiet day is when everything goes smoothly on the racetrack. I would usually finish about an hour after the last race, unless we race the next day, in which case it’s much later – we might have irrigation decisions, to move the running rail etc.
What was the racecourse like when you first joined in 1996?
The Queen’s Stand had not long been open and the Duchess Stand wasn’t built. The parade ring had only moved the year before to its current location from the site of the hotel and that same year was the first Saturday Derby (it was historically on Wednesday). The Derby was a three day meeting, including the Sunday.
The racecourse has changed dramatically in the last 20 years; how much do you think it has changed the ‘experience’ at Epsom?
It is a wonderful place to be racing at, on a warm summer’s day. The experience is better than 20 years ago, with newer grandstands, a more customer-friendly location for the parade ring and a massive improvement in the quality and location of temporary facilities, such as the hospitality areas; especially the Winning Post.
Water must have a really important role in what you do?
Being a summer event, irrigation of the course before the Derby meeting is commonplace in order to produce the optimum Going conditions for the racing. I spend a lot of time on weather forecast websites! It’s always easier if nature takes care of this with natural rainfall but if necessary we have the ability to put on 12mm of irrigation overnight.
Describe the perfect ‘going’ conditions for the Derby
We always aim to run the Derby on Going no quicker than Good to Firm, which is the BHA’s Instruction for flat racing. As a quick-drying course this means that we often start the IDF on Good ground, which dries to Good to Firm by Derby Day.
The Investec Derby Festival is a spectacular event, what is your favourite thing about it?
The Derby itself – it is the most wonderful and exciting race to be involved with given its history and prestige. It is the richest race in Britain and always attracts the top three year olds in Europe - that is pretty special.
Have you got a particular stand out memory from over the years?
My favourite winners have been Galileo and Sea the Stars, both of whom have gone on to sire Derby winners themselves, which is what the race is all about – top class horses producing more top class horses, as has been the case since 1780.
We’ve talked about the highs of your role, have there been any lows?
Any day or race where a horse or jockey gets injured is the worst part of the job and takes the gloss off the entire day, be that Derby Day or another meeting. We have doctors and vets following the field in a vehicle for every race, so the speed they receive treatment is almost instant.
In three words, how would you describe the IDF at Epsom?
I - Inclusive
D - Dazzling
F - Fun
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