Brian Finch has been retired from business for several years, but he is far from idle. The lessons learned from a lifetime’s passion for our sport and an international career in marketing for British American Tobacco are being employed to very good effect in a variety of roles in racing, notably as Non-executive Chair of Epsom Downs, which is the Zimbabwe-born 61-year-old’s local course. The Derby has been an annual sporting highlight wherever he has been in the world – he even named his son Troy after the 1979 winner – and making more of the event, especially among the local community, is among his ambitions. As the first black Chair of a British racecourse, he is also understandably just as passionate about promoting diversity in all of its forms. A moderately successful racehorse owner and breeder in South Africa, he is now involved in a syndicate with Ralph Beckett.

 My dad got me into racing in Zimbabwe where we had one racecourse, Borrowdale Park. It was a thriving little community, with racing once a week on Saturday, and we’d go as a family. I was fascinated by the sport, particularly the horses themselves and their pedigrees, and although dad had no connections in racing, he spoke to people who knew people, so it all grew from there. I worked at a bank but would clerk on my afternoon off for a bookmaker covering racing in South Africa, and also on Saturday at the track. Racing is a rather complicated, funny and unique sport, but it can grab you by the heart and I’ve found that if you make the effort, you quickly start joining up the dots with people through common interest.

I was living and working here in England when I got my first racehorse. It was a lot more affordable to have a horse in Zimbabwe. She was called Debutante Dancer, which became my ‘X’ handle – she raced twice, won twice, and I thought it was easy. I bred from her, raced the progeny, and subsequently sent her to South Africa to access better stallions. Of course, one became two, two became three and so on. It was just a hobby, and I didn’t see them very often, but then my professional life and my hobby collided when I transferred to South Africa. It led to me doing stints on various racing boards in South Africa and through those roles, and particularly through Bernard Kantor, I met some Jockey Club members in South Africa. On my return to England one thing led to another and I got involved with the Jockey Club at Sandown Park and Epsom, as well as the National Horseracing Museum. I was also an independent Chair of the BHA’s Racing Group for a period.

I succeeded Julia Budd as Non-Executive Chair at Epsom Downs immediately after Desert Crown’s win in the Platinum Jubilee Derby in 2022, which was a fabulous event. The Chair role is largely ambassadorial, representing the course, assisting the executive and connecting with the local community. It’s fair to say the changes in my first two years haven’t perhaps been as quick as I’d expected, but collectively we are clear what needs to be done to get Epsom and the Derby where we want it to be. The Derby is still the people’s race – we will do more to demonstrate that.

We have a clear strategy for the Epsom site, which will require investment. Conferencing and events provide a growing income stream with potential to grow further. However, our priority focus is to develop the site in a manner fitting to host the world’s greatest Flat race. Whilst Epsom can host up to 16 race days by legislation, we will continue to work on enhancing the nine fixtures outside of the Betfred Derby and Betfred Oaks before trying to expand. We have a huge catchment area and broad demographics on our doorstep; we can do a lot more with what we’ve got.

Developing the Derby festival into a weekly carnival of activity is a key objective for the Epsom team. We are quite advanced in building activity that’s relevant to the event and its stakeholders. Having piloted a very well received community day two years ago, we know it works. On the racing side we are discussing a variety of ideas, building on what we see at racing carnivals locally and elsewhere in the world. It takes time to secure the agreement of all the stakeholders, but I really do hope that we will one day see an additional race day within Derby week.

Attracting a younger audience to racing is vital but you have to offer an experience that makes people want to invest time in the sport. Racing’s social licence is a big talking point and I’m proud of the work being done by the industry. We must be prepared to talk about horse welfare because young people want to have the conversation and debate – racing is facing up to this conversation and putting facts forward. The new Horse PWR initiative is impressive and should be commended. Racing must keep showing the evidence so people can judge for themselves that the sport recognises the issues and is working on them. I am eight years out of the tobacco industry, but I look back at the way the industry boldly addressed the dangers of its products and how it fronted up about this. There is learning in other industries for racing.

In my view, there’s a solid business case for attracting and integrating the various diverse elements of our community by making racing relevant to them. The BHA’s new diversity group is asking the right questions and is hopefully setting the right recruitment plans. As soon as there are defined targets and metrics, you will see rapid improvement in the profile of diverse persons within the sport. I know it’s a journey, so I’m not expecting to see multiple ethnic minority chairs or CEOs overnight. What matters most is that it won’t just be Brian and that there will be others after me.

Epsom is on the up again as a training centre. Everyone was thrilled when Adam West won the Nunthorpe with Live In The Dream, and there are exciting developments at Jim Boyle’s yard, where a new barn has been built and another is under construction. Downs House, right on the racecourse, has been beautifully redeveloped by Mark Travers who hopes to have it up and running early next year, whilst Craig Benton is a new trainer to the community, based in an old established yard, The Limes. It’s all exciting.

I’m positive about the town, I’m positive about the racecourse and I’m positive about the Derby itself.  My journey in racing has been beyond my wildest dreams, and I’m hugely optimistic about where Epsom can grow too. At £1.5m, the Derby is still the most valuable and desired race in the British racing calendar as it deserves to be. I firmly believe there are no bad Derby winners but they’re not all champions. We all long for another Mill Reef, Nashwan, Galileo, Sea The Stars or Auguste Rodin, who was sensational last year. Hopefully another future champion will come through this year to get the heart racing faster than ever.