EPSOM – Instead of 100,000 people packing the rolling hills of Epsom Downs for Derby Day, the sound of swirling wind and rain filled the biosecure racing amphitheater on Saturday.
“I couldn’t hear anything around me,” winning jockey Emmet McNamara said. “All I could hear was the horse breathing.”
Not just because the coronavirus pandemic restricted access to what should be a social highlight of the English summer — for a race first staged in 1780 — to just a few hundred key personnel.
Without a winner since October, McNamara found himself so unexpectedly far out in front on Serpentine that no rivals could be heard. The 25-1 outsider that went out effectively as a pacemaker in the 241st running of the classic was never caught and produced an unlikely 5 1/2-length victory.
“That’s what makes it even more surreal — the empty stands and never seeing another horse,” McNamara said. “I think I am about to wake up from doing a piece of work on the gallops ... I can’t believe it.”
Neither could the bookmakers, who have felt the financial impact of sport being shut down in England for three months.
Big outsiders also placed, with Khalifa Sat taking second at 50-1 and Amhran Na Bhfiann third at 66-1 to complete a tricast that paid nearly 56,000 pounds ($70,000).
“It’s been a good day for the books,” Paddy Power spokesman Paul Binfield said.