Epsom chairman Brian Finch is defiant amid threat of protestors

Epsom Downs chairman Brian Finch is defiant amid threat of protestors storming the famous Derby as the Jockey Club is granted a High Court injunction to help stop animal rights activists after Grand National disruption

  • Epsom chairman Brian Finch is remaining calm amidst the threat of protestors
  • The Derby was a target for protestors who stormed onto the track last year
  • The Jockey Club has won an injunction from the High Court ahead of the event 

Next Saturday’s Betfred Derby will present challenges Brian Finch never envisaged after he made history last year when appointed as not only the first black chairman of Epsom but any British racecourse.

The Jockey Club have been granted a High Court injunction in an attempt to stop animal rights protesters from disrupting the most important Flat race of the season.

And the good news for the Jockey Club is that the man in charge is a cool, experienced and measured head who was born and grew up in Zimbabwe as it transitioned from Ian Smith’s white minority rule.

He went on to build an international business career which took him to some global hotspots, including working in war-struck Congo. Epsom will not be that next weekend but tensions will undoubtedly be high with the injunction unlikely to deter disruptive action from the Animal Rising protesters who forced their way onto Aintree racecourse to delay the Grand National in April.

That cost the Jockey Club £70,000 in additional security measures and the unprecedented security for Epsom already comes at a cost of £150,000.

Epsom chairman Brian Finch is taking a defiant approach to protestors thinking of disrupting the derby

The famous Epsom Derby will get underway next weekend as the biggest flat race of the season returns

The Derby will be faced with it’s own challenges amidst the threat of protestors at the event

Protesters ran onto the track on Derby Day at Epsom Downs racecourse last year

Finch, 60, said: ‘We all have different views. The protesters’ view is that we shouldn’t be using animals for sport but the reality is five million go to watch racing in this country so what about their views?

‘If you want to debate it, let’s debate it. What I have an issue with is their view that “I’m right and I’ll come in and stop your event’’. Not only will I stop it, but I’ll come on to your private property to do that. How does that work? I don’t know if it’s acceptable in society.

‘I am glad the Jockey Club have taken the steps they have to try to not only protect their property but also protect the safety of the horses, staff, participants and spectators who have paid money to be there. We can only prepare for what we think might happen.

‘Let’s not forget the Derby’s been going 243 years. It was even run during two World Wars. The protesters are entitled to their view but it shouldn’t be imposed on others.’

Finch says his Epsom role makes him feel like a ‘little boy living the dream’.

His love of sport was fostered in Harare where his late father James played football for Zimbabwe’s top club Dynamos. He was a mixed race man playing for a predominantly black team who would go on to manage the club and the national team as well as having trials for Tranmere Rovers.

It was Brian’s uncle who first took him to Borrowdale racecourse. His first job was in a bank and on half-day Wednesdays he earned ‘pocket money’ as a bookmakers clerk at the track.

The Derby was shown on Zimbabwe TV and watching The Minstrel’s dramatic 1977 Derby win cemented his jockey Lester Piggott as one of Finch’s sporting heroes.

Animal Rebellion activists were taken away by police at the Surrey racecourse last year

The Jockey Club has been granted an injunction against protestors threatening to disrupt next weekend’s race

‘When I got to meet him I was like a kid in a candy shop even though he didn’t say much,’ Finch said with a smile.

His passion for the race is underlined by the fact he named his son Troy after the 1979 winner.

Finch is passionate to promote the historic mile-and-a-half race but also make a wider difference to a sport which has struggled to cross ethnic boundaries in this country.

He admits the lack of black faces on British tracks initially made him reluctant to go to the races here. He is adamant there is plenty of interest in horseracing across the ethnic divides, it’s just that some do not see the racecourse as a welcoming environment.

‘It was a lot easier to watch on TV,’ he said. ‘I went to smaller meetings at Kempton and Sandown where you never saw a man of colour and I was never quite sure how I’d fit in. I think it’s something racing has to work on. It’s not a barrier racing has created, it’s more a perception from the outside. It’s about how we can help get rid of that perception.’

The Jockey Club have had to fork out an extra £70,000 to beef up security at the event

That verdict make Finch’s appointment significant, something he now acknowledges.

He added: ‘I recognise the responsibility that comes with the post, to do good and make sure I’m not the first and the last!

‘I can have the right conversations, show that I’m capable, encourage others to come with me and through that give the Jockey Club a bigger pool of people to look at for various roles.

‘It won’t be overnight but I hope during my tenure at Epsom it is something we can really get going with. I have lots of ideas that are swirling around in my head.’

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