The Epsom Derby 2018 is upon us, the latest appearance of what has been described as the greatest flat event in the horse-racing world. It is the most important of the seven races that will be run at Epsom on Saturday - the climax of what amounts to a two-day carnival on down-land, south of London.
But the Derby, and the Ladies’ Day that preceded it on Friday, is about a lot more than a chance to see three-year-old thoroughbreds at the top of their game, no matter how thrilling although that may be.
As with all the world’s great horse-races, such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France and the Kentucky Derby in the US, the Epsom Derby is big business.
Corporate hospitality of the highest quality
To begin with, its official name is the Investec Derby Festival – since 2009, the financial services group Investec has sponsored the event in a deal that will run until 2022.
Corporate hospitality looms large at Epsom, with food and drink of the highest quality provided for clients and other important business contacts. Horse-racing, along with Formula One motor sports, has long been a favoured venue for the £1 billion-plus a year British corporate hospitality industry.
Some companies entertain their guests in the traditional double-decker buses whose presence along the course has been an Epsom tradition for some time.
But the biggest business at Epsom will be done by the betting companies. It is rarely appreciated, especially by occasional visitors to racecourses, that the current scope and structure of British racing would be very different in the absence of the bookmaking industry, and that the event is of keen interest to those trading gambling stocks.
Bookies hope to avoid an upset
There would be far fewer than the 60 fully-fledged racecourses currently in operation, and a greatly reduced volume of races. The best guess of a betting-free racing world would have a handful of prestigious races with big prize money, such as the Derby, at one end of the scale and a series of local, amateur race events at the other, with riders taking part largely out of their own interest.
No such prospects need be contemplated, however, given the scale of the betting industry in the UK and its long-standing relationship with racegoers. In 2015, it was estimated that £25 million was staked on the main Derby race, with, obviously, smaller sums on the other races on Ladies’ Day and Derby Day.
So Saturday is likely to be a busy one for sports betting stocks such as Paddy Power Betfair and William Hill, indicating buoyant future business for the likes of Playtech, the world’s largest supplier of on-line gaming and sports betting software.
The Epsom Derby is a great day out and a chance to see top-class jockeys and horses in action. But it is also a big business in its own right.