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  Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Derby day dawns at Epsom
Open-top double deckers give a good Derby vantage point
Buses will line the descent from Tattenham Corner
The Derby is live on BBC TV, BBC Sport Online and BBC Five Live, along with four other races from Epsom on Saturday.

As excitement builds before Saturday's big race, Epsom racecourse manager Stephen Wallis tells BBC Sport Online's Frank Keogh about his hopes for Derby day.

A bumper crowd of more than 100,00 people is expected to cram Epsom Downs on Saturday for the Derby.

The world's most famous Flat race is being broadcast by BBC TV for the first time in 22 years on Grandstand, with BBC Sport Online webcasting the race

And racecourse chiefs are hoping the extra exposure from switching to the Grandstand programme from Channel 4, which has a smaller viewing audience, will help increase the race's profile.


If you want to attract the maximum number of people, the logic is you run it when the maximum number of people can attend
Stephen Wallis
As the sun shone on the Surrey town, the going on the track was likely to be on the firmer side of good, which means very race fast times are likely to be recorded.

Traffic will build up for miles around the course up to four hours before any action gets under way. The first race is due off at 1400 BST, with the Derby at 1550.

In the traffic jams will be countless open-top double deckers, with punters on board, preparing to line the famous descent from Tattenham Corner to the finishing post.

They are just part of a carnival atmosphere where top hats, funfairs and gypsies selling "lucky" heather are other ingredients in the mix.

Controversial

Course general manager Stephen Wallis has a lot riding on Saturday, with his track the centre of attention for a global TV audience of up to 60m people.

Wallis took up his role in 1994, helping to oversee the controversial switch of the big race from its traditional date on the first Wednesday in June.

It was part of an overhaul of the premier Classic which was losing some of its appeal from the days in the late 1970s when attendances hit an estimated 250,000.

"The Derby was dying, it was in the doldrums," acknowledges Wallis, a busy but affable leader.

A young racegoer at the Epsom Derby
Young and old alike dress up on Derby day
"We'd seen a gradual decline in the Wednesday Derby. If you want to attract the maximum number of people, the logic is you run it when the maximum number of people can attend."

But the problem can be that the Derby has to compete with other big sporting events on a Saturday, while it was the only real attraction on a Wednesday.

Wallis is unmoved by those, including retired triple Derby-winning jockey Walter Swinburn, who call for a return to the old date.

"It's an issue we feel is done and dusted. We are not going back. All the evidence on crowd size suggests it was the right decision to take," he insists.

He believes there was too much concentration in the 1980s and 1990s on attracting the corporate cash, and the ordinary punters who had made it "London's big day out" were being forgotten.

Buoyant atmosphere

Now The Hill, an area of the Downs infield of the course and open to the public with no admission charge, boasts added parking and toilet facilities.

From midday, some of Britain's biggest pop stars - including Hear' Say and Steps - will play in between races.

'Fill the hill' is the motto, as the big players like to see a decent crowd and buoyant atmosphere.

The BBC will hope to play its part, with more than 40 cameras and a special "speedometer" to measure how quickly the horses travel on that downhill stretch, reputed to be the fastest in the world.

"We have done a major marketing brand review. We want it to be a firm national event, and for that you need the BBC, although Channel 4 did serve us well," says Wallis.

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