The Greatest Flat Race in the World

 1957: The Queen leads in her first Classic winner, Carrozza, who won the Oaks at Epsom with Lester Piggott on board.


That’s the thing about vices – they’re such fun. And besides, even the word itself has a sort of old-world, disreputable dignity about it, a wry self-awareness that carries the implication that vices, like children, must be indulged from time to time.

For a vice to qualify as such, it has to sting more than those self-consciously winsome, nauseatingly cutsie confessions so beloved of Sunday Times Magazine columnists like ‘I am addicted to hot water bottles’ or ‘I can’t resist choccy biccies’. No, vices are for grown-ups, not journalists. But though they need to sting, they must also stop short of hurting, at which point they become merely character flaws, bad habits or common vulgarities to add to one’s list.

Moderation, somewhat counterintuitively, seems to be the key. There needs to be that aura of dark potential, that sense of the sinister carefully but precariously reigned in. That first gin on a Saturday afternoon? Merely a leveller. But that second one that tilts the world at just the right angle? That’s more like it. How about a third, though? Steady on, old chap.

So whilst we would of course never, ever countenance the glorious, deliberate pursuit of sin and moral degradation, perhaps when one slips into one’s tails this Saturday and dons that splendid topper on one’s bonce in preparation for The Derby Stakes, ‘the Greatest Flat Race in the World’, one might bear in mind the legacy of race-goers stretching back to the first Epsom Derby in 1780 and pop a little extra on the nose of that horse you like the look of.

Not too much, but then again not too little - just enough to tickle.

You can find out what’s on, where and what to wear here: