Monday, 29 November 2021

A SPORT FACING DANGERS FROM ALL CORNERS OF SOCIETY

One wonders at what point the momentum building 'war' being waged on betting will reach its ceiling. Those with horse racing at heart once hoped and even believed that those actively opposed to the most addictive forms of gambling would pat themselves on the back for a job well done once the war on FOBTs was won.

Surely they could see the difference between speculating wildly without reflection time, and putting in hard cash to support an opinion as a hobby, albeit one that can be costly when wrong decisions are made. Surely they would realise how LBO's had been taken over by a different breed of gambler with no interest in wagering on anything equine

But those of us who naively in support of the ultimately successful campaign to limit the stakes per spin on these sinister, gaudy machines, and who ignored warnings that once they unarm the most damaging aspects of the FOBTs they would turn their attention to betting on horses amongst other things, now wish   the FOBTs remained as soul destroying as they were, and remained at the core of anti gambling campaigns.

Most worryingly, it is becoming increasingly clear that those jumping aboard this interfering anti gambling bandwagon who consist of cross party MP's, anti gambling organisations, and some sections of the national media, will not stop until a regulatory system is in place that will monitor and impose affordability limits on an individual - this after nosing through their personal finances.

Right now the bookmaking firms have some very concerned bigwigs pulling the strings. Having to play along with the game, put on a soft, warm game face, concerned for the welfare of the clients. One upon a time stories were abundant involving the big firms wining and dining their biggest players (well the careless ones at least), accompanying them to live sporting events while accommodating their erratic betting patterns, then completely cutting ties once they had drained the client of his whole disposable  wealth.

This still remains the inherent instinct of those running the these big national firms. It's a ruthless business model and one that will also stamp on smaller, rival firms that set up nearby. Right now they are frantically considering all possible options to prevent this meddlesome enemy from removing their clout - lobbying and strengthening their ties with MP's who may have ulterior motives for offering their support. to undercutting McDonald's on morning snacks and coffees, ostensibly to portray a mumsey image but in reality to hook in who they hope will become addictive gamblers.

Let's be honest, all punters, even those who concentrate in the main on horse racing and who consider themselves genuine fans, will from time to time show a degree of irresponsibility. Often coming in the form of getting a bit too cute when things are going well and placing some careless wagers when the bank is big, or at the other end of the scale trying to smash your way out of a poor run, which in the worst case scenario results in an enforced sabbatical during which everything you want to back but at the very best can only afford a fraction of normal stakes, wins.

Moreover it's something that all lifelong punters are able to take on the chin - never too happy during a good run, never too down during a bad one. If these proposals that these anti gambling lobbying groups are introduced, such as being allowed to lose, say, £200 a month, punters will be sent insane, using up their allowance in the first week then painfully watching from the sidelines as a host of horses in your mental notebook go in without carrying any of your money which you know you could have afforded to bet, but live a life were out of choice having a bank for Cheltenham is a bigger priority than a new three piece suite.

And what of the destruction such measures will inflict on horse racing? Take no notice of those who say racing doesn't need punters to survive. It's not just the levy; media rights would not be worth a box of matches if punters deserted the sport as no one would want to watch racing anymore. Yes, it's fine us genuine racing fans say they can watch racing all day without having a bet, and would happily spend life reading historic racing books, but for the funding of the sport to be maintained at any sort of reasonable level at a time when racing's share of the betting pie continues to decrease, it will not be able to overcome a scenario where affordable limits are imposed.

For starters a majority of racing bettors, probably a significant one too, would just tell any operator to stuff his checks up his jacksie. And even those what comply would, from reduced levels of wagering, have collectively a detrimental affect on the money that can be harvested for the sport.

There exist serial spenders who run up huge debts on their numerous credit cards, buying clothes with the in vogue labels that may be worn just once;  there are amateur stock market players who lose devastating sums by going in heavy on Blue Chip 'investments', the stock market equivalent to big race odds on favourites, then there are those who through lack of knowledge and preparatory research, invest all they have in a franchise that goes backwards.

But the attention is on gambling which is becoming the new smoking. Just like the 'smoking can damage your health'  messages on the sides of a packet of Players No 6, we had the ' bet responsibly' slogans. Then in line with pictures of diseased lungs on the ciggy packets, we had adverts showing angry characters betting, leaving a subliminal message that this was a first step to mental ruin.

In the case of cigarettes, the anti smoking lobbies took a while to really gain control as for literally decades it was slogans and pictures, even the removal of tobacco advertising from sport did not hold any clues to what was around the corner for the banning of smoking in indoor public places including pubs, allied to a price hike out of proportion to previous ones, has set the way for a move to outlaw smoking outdoor, with the ultimate aim of removing cigarettes from the shops.

For those of us old enough to recall aunties and uncles who'd smoke up to 80 cigarettes a day, every day, and who lived to ripe ages, this villifying a habit of choice is a little disturbing even if it will assist the collective health of those it targets.

It appears that the anti gambling brigade have now quickly reached the equivalent of outlawing smoking in public indoor places. And if they are able to install an affordability check system in place they would have reached the same stage in just a few years that the tobacco opponents took decades to reach. 

This is a real worry.And it's so ironic that there are innovations in racing to get the emerging generations involved at the same time that other bodies are brainwashing them on the evils of punting. Have no doubt, the future of this sport is in peril.

Advent has begun so on to some xmas music - this from a talented Belgium singer who is a household name in many mainland European countries. It's from the late 1990's but reverting back to a better time for racing let's pretend it was released the weekend when Bregawn beat Captain John in the 1982 Hennessey.



Saturday, 20 November 2021

THIS SPORT IS ON ITS WAY OUT


This present weekend is a reminder that ten years have now passed since Kauto Star was beginning his last hoorah. Four or five decades back you could guarantee that such an illuminary, along with his monster rival and stable companion Denman (in picture), would have refuelled the racing fanbase and put untold mileage on the future well being of the sport.That is sadly no longer the case.

It's not really that long ago and was a most welcoming era that coincided on the level with SeaThe Stars career and the beginning of Frankels, and witnessed a continued run of years that was a gift to racing, something that in another era would have consolidated the standing of the sport, even without promotion from within.

However, times had already changed in a sport that had fallen a couple of tiers in real popularity (which is not measured by a head count of the weekend and evening attendees at the cult crowd courses), and the number of new genuine racing fans the era attracted is now comparatively small as the decline has continued.

There was a TV interview after one of Frankel's victories with Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Lord Grimthorpe, who was full of beans and cheerily proclaiming that Frankel will have created a whole new generation of racing aficionados.

The problem for those who are within the confines of the racing circle is that they overestimate the popularity of the sport outside of their cliques. It's regrettable but true that the horse who surpassed the Timeform rating of the mighty Sea Bird, something we never thought would happen, would not break into the outside world and be lauded like a Pele,Viv Richards, Mark Spitz, Mohammed Ali, Eddie Merckx, Ayrton Senna did in their respective sports. For truth be told, outside of the sport there is no Frankel legacy.

In the case of Kauto Star, the best chaser since Arkle, more hope could be clinged on to for it is invariably the great National Hunt horses that stoke up admiration for the game and reign in new fans. Grundy was a distant background figure compared to Red Rum in the popularity stakes, the same could be said when comparing Nashwan to Desert Orchid, or Sea The Stars with Kauto and Denman.

Alas, no long term benefit had been derived from that wonderful period for steeplechasing that concluded nearly a decade back. Just look around racecourses now and see what a rarity if is to spot a book stall, or one with paintings and photos.These were once standing dishes at almost every course and appeared to be attracting a strong, steady stream of business throughout the day.

It's a sign that the tracks are being populated by an increasingly 'cold' audience who have no feel for the game. You saw them at Cheltenham last weekend when ITV randomly picked out a group of twenty somethings on course who were going on about backing number this and number that. This really is how it is.

And those pictures from Haydock Park today - yes there were plenty crowded around the paddock but it was hard to pick anyone out who looked under forty, a sign that the attendees born after1980 are a different species from the fans who have sadly either passed on, are seriously ill, are infirm, or who have gone mad with age.

Some may say, well, what's to worry about if they call horses by numbers or don't buy old racing books? The worry is that these emerging generations will wager their betting money on things other than racing away from the course. And as the share of racing's percentage of the betting pie decreases, the financial shortfall will deepen.

This can't be repeated enough, nor can the certainty that anyone becoming hooked on the sport and developing a real passion for it, will be a punter for life and a contributor as most, no matter how knowledgeable, lack the iron clad self discipline to squeeze out a long term profit.

The attempt by the TV broadcasters to allay an impression that the sport is thriving is total illusory. It's wilting. And what is scary is that we exist in an era were customs, beliefs and habits don't change gradually anymore, they change overnight. 

The most ridiculous concepts are being forced on society and rapidly moving tide of change will leave horse racing behind. It's not a sport that can modernise and keep its place.To those who make things move within populations, any sport that involves animals is not one that is acceptable to have links with.

Whether it be in the area of betting turnover, or in the sphere of the high equine wastage rate within the sport, no amount of cajolery from smug TV frontmen will improve the standing  of the sport. It's merely  papering over cracks that can't now fully be hidden. 

That Panorama programme has done more damage than those within the sport think. Try talking to normal everyday people who once thought that the so called welfare issues within the sport were confined to the Grand National and whips - the programme really proved to be an eye opener for them.

ITV racing addressed it once, raised it as a concern, but have gone quiet, preferring instead to portray a John Craven's Newsround image of the sport, probably hoping that the wastage issue is back to how it was - out of sight, out of mind. 

They are very mistaken. It's a subject now out in the open and one that won't be going away. 

image taken by author

This previously unreleased track appeared on what was in most part a compilation album released the day before Terry Biddlecombe partnered the Fred Rimmel trained future Grand National winner Gay Trip to success in the Mackeson. As well as the horse racing being in a better place, so to was music. Anyone who has read Roger Daltrey's ' Thanks A Lot Mr Kibblewhite' will be aware how much respect he had for the singing ability of Steve Marriott.


Sunday, 7 November 2021

CONDITIONS THAT NEED TO BE IN PLACE FOR AN ENJOYABLE DAY AT THE RACES



There has to be a set of circumstances that fall together to make it bearable to go racing nowadays, particularly on weekends, given that we clearly have emerging generations who have considerably less enthusiasm for horse racing than those preceding them.

Aintree looked a good opportunity. There were no themes attached to the programme, the weather forecast was a gloomy one with grey skies and showers forecast throughout the day. All in all it had all the ingredients to offer an enjoyable day for those who still go along for the actual racing.

As things turned out, the fact that the crowd was modest in size made things bearable but evidence was all around of how, in those months when the climate is more friendly, staying at home is the better option.

Finding a speck down by the rails to watch the opener I was joined by a large group of twenty somethings,  well groomed lads and girls with their drinks in hand, bottles of what looked like Prosecco, bottles of beer, all very vocal, all with southern sounding brogues. They were referring to the horses they backed by their number as opposed to name. As the runners passed the stands for the first time one of the group was yelling  "fall over! fall over! fall over! " - the others seemed to find this amusing.

This is how people develop when brought up on the modern, sanitised comedy, while those of a certain age will recall being able to laugh together with the family at the likes of On The Buses, The Two Ronnies, Rising Damp, and many more in that mould. Timeless, still funny, and you have to be pretty retarded not to be able to chuckle at such classic comedy. In fact, good advice would be to make a point of not associating with such dreary characters who cannot find amusement in these shows. 

The only pleasing moment was when a gust picked up and a heavy shower broke out during the late stages of the races. But they hadn't had enough and were back out for the second race, shouting encouragement to number this and number that. I hardly heard a horses name mentioned never mind the name of a trainer or rider.

The racing industry are reaping what they've sown. These characters will not betting on the horses away from the course thus are not contributing to the pot that racing desperately needs to survive. Media rights are are interwoven with the public betting on horses so it's ridiculous to think that racing's share of the betting pie can continue to decrease without threatening the value of pictures from the tracks.

Admittedly some venues make their largest chunk from party type crowds, particularly in the summer months. But at the end of the day these 'racegoers' feel no attachment to the sport and are fodder to be drawn away to the next in vogue rival attraction. They are merely sticky plaster papering over the cracks.

Another way of losing decent attendees is the fact that everthing bar exchanges with the small number of racecourse bookmakers in attendance was payment by card only, as I discovered when purchasing a coffee  and a Fanta. Whether this is a way of using covid as an excuse to make these transactions the only option I've no idea as only an airhead would truly believe that it reduces the spread of infections. 

Maybe, it's just an empty, nannying, ' caring' gesture though it would be certain that there would of been one or two elderly people in attendance who went without any form of refreshment for the duration of the meeting. It's measures like this that half make you wish racecourses harm and lack of prosperity.

On popping inside to watch a couple of races from the off meetings there was a group of half shot lads chanting football songs. I've no idea the team they were singing about but they were not local and again had southern accents, sounding as though they came from as far down as south of the midlands at least. The only warming sight was to spot someone with Betfair on his phone watching a race from Donny while glancing at the in running prices. Another racing fan! They are a rarity.

It crossed my mind that none of those downing the booze can have been racing fans. There was a certain Breeders Cup to look forward to in the evening and those beginning their sessions at noon clearly had no intention of watching the action from Del Mar, though truth be told most were probably unaware of its existence.

Two further examples of the glaring lack of enthusiasm for things racing are that all those who bothered to view the animals in the paddock seemed over forty at the very least. And as I always wander down to the final flight of hurdles to watch a race or two, I came across only one other person who was passionate enough over proceedings to do the same.

The course hosts Becher Chase day on December 4th. It could be extremely pereshing. It will be gloomy with no proper daylight, hopefully rain and wind too. People will have Christmas on the mind, respiratory viruses will have surged, perhaps Mr 'fall over' will have caught something nasty along with his cohorts. It really does have the appeal of an enjoyable day for genuine racing fans.

image taken by author


No cover versions can beat the original of this sung by a class act whose own cover versions surpass the originals. Too classy to have been released in the 1990's thus to join in with the modern spirit of rewriting the past, let's say it was released the week that Rag Trade won the original Grand National which is no more.


Sunday, 31 October 2021

A SPORT THAT CAN ONLY DREAM OF PAST DAYS

 


One can only chuckle over how many in the cricket world express deep concern over the future of the Test game as though the whole sport is in crisis - a sport that when put side by side with racing, is absolutely thriving on a global basis and whose formats that have unorthodox razzmatazz added will eventually create new fans, many of whom will then gradually be weaned on to appreciating the traditional format. 

It's now customary for all the household names of the game to keep to the script about the Test format being in grave danger but some of the suggestions to tackle the so called crisis are workable and could be the solution - such as Geoffrey Boycott's proposal for the five day game to be slotted into four, longer days, with stricter rules to deter slow over rates.There exists no unmovable object that would prevent a mass resurgence in the popularity of the Test game.

From a horse racing point of view it almost makes one jealous of the position cricket is in. For in racing they do not turn back from change. The Grand National In Name Only Chase will never revert back to the real thing, that butterfly in the stomach test of a race it once was. Haydock Park will never rebuild that wonderful old chasing course with drop fences and the second longest run in, in the country. That heart in the mouth second last on the old course at Cheltenham will never revert back to where it was once cited.

It's the problem of animals and sport not going together in the modern world. Even without this angle, there is also the damage created by greed ruining the fixture list. Do we really enjoy the Breeders Cup as much since the extra races and Friday were introduced?  And we know too well how the Cheltenham Festival has to a real extent been ruined by the increased number in opportunities for connections to dodge and dive when picking the race for their animals to compete in.

We can only sit back and marvel at the immediate success of the Dublin Festival that has more in common with a 1970's  Cheltenham Festival than the present Prestbury Park event does with it's former counterpart.

Curiously, some will be trying to use the marvelous Frodon to forward a view that the Anglo-Irish balance of power in the jumping game is not presently as one sided as the majority righly make it out to be. In reality it's a sad reflection of how threadbare the quality of fields that fill the British mainland programme is when you consider that on paper, the field that lined up for the Down Royal race yesterday could feasibly turn out to be better than the one that lines up in the Kempton Park showcase event on Boxing Day.

It's such a wonderful high quality Christmas programme in Ireland that it's now more likely the King George V1 Chase would be chosen as an opt out from the more competitive Leopardstown race, notwithstanding of course the different nature of the Kempton circuit,

And talking of the increasing pattern whereby the showcase Saturday events in the UK mainland jumping fixture list are producing fields with quality thinner on the ground than in living memory, yesterday's Charlie Hall not surprisingly saw a turn out weaker than what would have been expected in former times. A once exciting animal in Cyrname who had for a spell been officially rated the best chaser in training but who has now truly lost his mojo,  up against Shan Blue,  a high class novice from last season whose merits were exposed come Festival time.

Ironically, he may end up winning the King George, something which would be a reminder of how ordinary the quality of the British mainland National Hunt programme has now become. While it's true that the high class hurdlers and chasers are campaigned more sparingly nowadays, they do not exist in any sizeable number in the UK to fill the quality races even if more bolder approaches came back into fashion.

Those of us old enough to have got hooked on racing the year that Comedy Of Errors regained his crown from Lanzarote, then to witness the front running hurdler who was arguably the greatest of them all, Night Nurse, come onto the scene, will have given up trying to reason with those who use Istabraq as the benchmark to compare all top class hurdlers with.

With regularity the main protagonists for the hurdling crown would be appearing in one combination or an other with the magnificent array of support players, some such as Bird's Nest having serious claims for the title, others being solid animals worthy of their place in the line ups of such events such as Dramatist, Flash Imp, Tree Tangle, Navigation, along with a former Epsom Derby sixth who after being purchased by Scotsman Pat Muldoon had moved from the Beckhampton stables of Jeremy Tree to G W Richard's, then to Peter Easterby's yard after a fall out. Just Sea Pigeon and yes, at that stage of his hurdling career he was just a support player. What an era!

Back to the present and irrespective of whether or not the inbalance in Anglo-Irish strength is maintained - of which there is no guarantee that it will be beyond the near future - the sport must brace itself as its general profile and popularity declines in comparison to other sports.

It has been revealed that Spotlight Sports, the owners of the Racing Post, are up for sale. The appeal is being branded on the data products it owns with an emphasis of continued expanion into sports other than racing.This is further confirmation that the portion of the betting pie taken up by horse racing will continue to decrease.

And without doubt one of the other sports where eyes go blurred at some of the figures involved in the betting liquidity will be the shorter format cricket competitions  - although the amounts involved in tests involving the main teams are also impressive. If only those involved in that sport realised  how truly safe and secure it's future really is.

A track from an album released two months before Comedy Of Errors regained his crown, and which would have been in thousands of racing fans households by the end of the year when Night Nurse emerged  as a champion in waiting.


Thursday, 21 October 2021

AN UNSIGHTLY SIGHT NOW COMMONPLACE ON THE RACECOURSE


One of the scourges of modern society, something that has unfortunately infiltrated horse racing, is the popularity of the 'selfie', a cheap, empty exercise which shows a lack of respect for the subject who has been approached.

It's baffling how this craze took off and thrived. For many it is seen as a replacement for the traditional autograph, something which shows much more dignity to the person being converged upon. They can do the deed or refuse - at least they are given full choice. In the case of a selfie, the subject sometimes just finds a camera shoved infront of his face from behind. A total classless act and annoying even just to witness. 

Even if asked politely beforehand, it's curious why anyone would consent to something that could be all around the world on social media and could in certain circumstances be manipulated by a Walter Mitty, something which signing a racecard creates no similar worries over - even if the autograph hunter seeks the signature for a little profit on e bay it will still end up in the possession of a genuine fan.

This is not to say that the 'celebrities' of their divisions should be fawned over - in fact in the sport of horse racing the media generally tip toe around them and give them an easier time than the big players in the other prominent sports are afforded.

It would just be more befitting of such a sport that once had so many unwritten customs that were adhered to if it could be spared an ugly trend that does not fit the ambience of which some still associate racing with.

Moreover, just  observe the ages of some of the people who are in search of selfies. They are grown adults. Once they have swooped upon their object and come away with their prize, if will then be put on  Twitter -  all so cringeworthy for why would you want to be photographed with your arm around a stranger's shoulder sporting a laddish type expression as though you are pals.

The selfie taker and 'celebrity' are not buds - so much more preferable to approach in a dignified manner and ask if they would sign your race card. They may oblige, they may not. God only knows what is going on in their lives for they'll have their problems too, they'll have their dying relatives too.

Although autograph hunting was low on my agenda I would get a mighty buzz as a kid obtaining jockey autographs - particularly approaching Pat Eddery as I had become truly obsessed with the sport in Grundy's year and the first racing book I read was ' Pat On The Back', published at the end of it.

From memory, think I was only refused twice by jockeys. Derby winning jockey Ernie Johnson sternly told me to see him later, while miniature lightweight Taffy Thomas cast me a rather contemptuous look then ignored me. On the Saturday that it became certain that Willie Carson would be securing the 1978 jockey's championship hordes of autograph seekers surrounded the weighing room and he was forced  to make a run for the paddock otherwise he'd never have got through.

I think my most memorable day in the signature seeking mode was when Solinus won the William Hill Sprint Championship. Have quite a few scribbles on the race card, Pat Eddery, Carson, Eddie Hide, a couple of others, think they may be Jimmy Bleasdale and Brian Taylor. 

The only media person I approached was Richard Pitman  who on the day Beacon Light beat Monksfield in the Royal Doulton Hurdle signed my card and had a little chat. Although I sought his signature for his exploits as a rider, there would of been a couple of media personalities in the sport in those days whose autographs I would have treasured - compared with now when there would not be a single one of them I'd have the slightest respect for.

Obtaining autographs can likewise be taken over to adulthood as it is not a process that is with the cheap, trashy act of selfie seeking. It would be no surprise if there was a consistency in the characteristics of those taking selfies, that could be separated from the characteristics of those who covet signatures.

Selfie- takers very likely stream their music and would be more likely to mix the order of play rather than respect the track order which the great bands of the late 1960's and 1970's would in general put a great deal of thought into just like the chapters of a book - a strong opening track being essential.

Those of us who despite the selfie revolution but who have an appreciation of autographed material will buy our music for keeps and have an i tunes lifetime bill approaching three thousand quid - alot of the stuff of which we have had and still have on vinyl, and perhaps have had on cassette too, before the inferior, tinny sounding CD revolution had its era. 

Irrespective of our thoughts on Apple the i tunes digitalised sound is the only one that surpasses that of vinyl and doesn't scratch! And despite this cheap argument that the artists have enough money already, buying for keeps rather than streaming results in jobs being maintained in the lower ranks of the music industry by normal everyday people.

The selfie brigade have much to answer for and racing would be better off without them.

A classic example of a celebrated album with a strong opening track, released three days before Henry Cecil's Approval won the Observer Gold Cup.




Tuesday, 12 October 2021

SOMETHING THAT UK RACING CANNOT COMPETE WITH



There will soon come a time when we will be able to see the UK racing model downsizing. Beneath the surface the erosion is already happening but once the long term damage from the slowing up of the economy takes hold, training licences will be handed back in, course closures will inevitably come, and job losses will be part and parcel of all of it.

In different circumstances the sport contracting may not have necessarily been a bad thing - the end of head spinning wall to wall racing plus a return to the old days of a manageable fixture list which can be comfortably digested and savoured.

But unfortunately that would be wishful thinking as the true trimmed down model would see even more power in fewer hands with the same sets of colours dominating even more than they do now. 

The media voices and  outlets within the sport are united in denial about the true extent of what will be a radical overhaul of the UK racing scene. It's happening slowly out of the spotlight but soon the shadows will surface and the sport will drop another tier in popularity.

Are there comparisons in the football world?  Well, we are soon to be in a situation where the Premiership will be dominated by four superpowers. This is something that has delighted a work colleague of mine with a full glass empty attitude to everything in life, who I have corresponded with almost daily for over a decade, debating sport, politics, and 1970's TV.

For the current football season, he's handed in his season ticket at a world famous club that he's been an active supporter of for 45 years. He will have the opportunity of claiming it back next summer but as yet is undecided. 

He despairs how the fan base has gradually changed from locals to what he terms as the 'distance challenged', who have no links with the location of the club and who have latched on to a fashionable big name, deserting in the process good clubs with a loyal fan base in their own locality. He is equally in contempt of locals who claim to be big supporters and talk of the club all day long but won't dip their hands in their pockets to offer in the flesh match day support.

He has for many, many years been turning up, taking his seat near the halfway line, and silently willing the opponents on, as each defeat, he hopes, will leave the 'imposters' who are taking over 'his' club feeling their loyalties waiver and lives in hope that the club will fall into steep decline resulting in this modern fanbase losing interest.

Needless to say he is overjoyed by the Newcastle United takeover, meaning that there will be four superpowers with the rest, including 'his' famous club left the cold. " I feel happy and content", he declared,  " The club will decline to mediocrity now but it will take time for it to sink in with these fans who I have nothing in common with that there will be no more league titles - all four of the superpowers would all have to have below par seasons to give anyone else a look in" 

In European flat racing Michael Stoute is in gradual wind down mode while John Gosden has been unable to keep them few years of spectacularly consistent success in motion. It was a sustained period that came out of nowhere - he'd settled into one of the top trainers when returning from the States but was never really right at the top. It's incredible to think that as relatively recently as 2003, Oasis Dream was his sole Group 1 winning performer for the session.

Now he'll soon be handing the licence fully over to his son and if there is a downturn in results, the owners will begin to fall away. Racing needs this yard to maintain its position near thet top and to be able to compete with the big two, for France is weak at the moment with the mighty Andre Fabre having less potent firepower than he's had in decades. 

Two superpowers, it's worse than footy. And the potential for the popularity of the sport itself to get back on track to the days of old is non existent. In the long term it's not worth a bean pulling in large summer weekend crowds if that so called engagement is not repeating itself in the percentage of the betting public who play the horses.

Admittedly some venues can survive and profit from this type of audience, though it's a fickle one that will not provide long term loyalty as quite frankly the sport does not interest them. Put on a rival attraction  with a wide range of alcohol beverages on sale, add in some gimmicks, and they'll soon turn their backs to the racecourses.

There is another obstacle in the way of attracting long term, genuine racing enthusiasts from the emerging generations in the UK. Some may poke fun at Grand Prix racing with the usual criticism stating how boring and repetitive it is but the fact remains that solid, good quality, Saturday horse racing cards cannot even compete with Grand Prix qualifying which is why racing coverage on terrestrial tv has in the past rescheduled times to avoid a clash it has no chance of winning.

And soon, the popularity in this country of this still most glamorous four wheeled sport is going to step up to a higher level than ever before over the next couple of years with George Russell and Lando Norris coming through to reach superstar levels as Lewis Hamilton leaves the scene, probably at the end of next season.

It's what everyone will want to talk about. A sport that blows racing out of the water. The engagement level with it amongst the emerging generations already dwarfs horse racing in this country and the gap in popularity between the two will only widen. Not good news for racing at all.

image author David Merritt, Daventry, England CC 2.0


This from a solid all the way through album released the day before Bachelor's Hall beat Fort Devon and  Aldaniti in the Hennessey.


Thursday, 30 September 2021

RELEGATED TO THE SECOND DIVISION



Although there is plenty of mileage remaining in the current flat season, one cannot help focusing a few weeks further on to when the National Hunt season begins to hit top gear. For those on this side of the Irish Sea, one can only look ahead with some trepidation.

This is not something necessarily brought about by the present Irish dominance of the jumping scene as such balances of power can tilt quicker than imagined, though it is something that is unhealthy for the sport irrespective of whether such a view is brought about by genuine concern or tinted more through envious eyes.

A reverse inbalance existed in the other direction during the second half of the 1980's  - remember for example Galmoy being the sole Irish triumph at the Cheltenham Festival two years running. I recall being there both those years and on one occasion hearing an Irish voice exclaim," hardly a reaction!" as the John Mulhern trained gelding crossed the line.They were odd times. Nearly all of the quality Irish stores were sold to these shores and when it resulted in one sided festivals it took something away from the scene for all genuine fans, no matter where they came from.

But all power holds eventually end in racing and the present situation will not run indefinitely. Micheal O'Leary is winding down his considerable string of animals and it would only take a loss of enthusiasm from someone like Rich Ricci to put the situation back in the balance.

It should never be a surprise when interest wains with influential owners. Who thought Graham Wylie's interest would gradually peter out? A  still relatively young and massively enthusiastic investor in the jumping scene who enjoyed some great successes. Surely, the most coveted four or five prizes would be coming his way and he could be banked upon to persevere, but the signs were ominous when he failed to reinvest and allowed his dwindling string, lately based in Ireland, to wind down.

Trevor Hemmings carried out a culling of his portfolio of animals and he now operates on a smaller scale than in the last couple of decades. However, there are age factors involved here. His mobility is unlike to be how it was and, allied to the stalling prize money versus increasing costs, a smaller, easier to keep tabs on string probably seemed preferable - though sadly, he lost Wetlands at Ayr in April who would have been the most exciting Northern trained animal going novice chasing this season.

Wylie cutting ties with the sport and Hemmings trimming his string, demonstrate how the involvement of powerful investors should never be taken for granted so it should not necessarily be a shock if like O'Leary, Ricci decided to move on from the sport. The concentration of quality in his manageable collection of animals that race in his colours is like something never seen before. Perhaps the only owner running a similar modus operandi in past times would be Sheikh Ali Abu Khamsin during the 1980's.

The Middle Eastern businessman started with Les Kennard then quickly developed an increased but manageable sized string with Fred Winter taking in the larger number, supported by Nick Gaselee and Mercy Rimmell. Winter provided the owner with many memorable successes with the mighty Half Free, as well as going so close in the King George V1 Chase with Fifty Dollars More, while Mrs Rimmell gave him his highest profile success when capturing the Champion Hurdle with Gaye Brief in 1983, an above average winner of he race who never got the credit he deserved. She also guided the Sheikh's Gala's Image to a shock success in the Arkle Chase. Nick Gaselee's most notable performer for the owner was Boland's Cross, considered a potential Cheltenham Gold Cup winner but who fell short of that level despite being very talented.

A fine quality string of limited numbers, very successful too but not on the mind blowing scale of Ricci. It should be remembered though that Khamsin also left the sport pretty quickly, almost without trace. It happens often unexpectedly, just when you had accepted that the involvement would be unceasing.

This is why for those concerned or even begrudging over the inbalance in quality between the two Isles, things may level up, no matter how unlikely that seems at present. Let no one undermine the damage done by the sitting on dead horses hullabaloo, or Gordon Elliott receiving a second dose of bleak publicity from the Panorama programme, or the painstaking digging up damaging evidence of illegal drug use by William Jones in his second book, ' The Black Horse Is Dying'.

Jones is peservering to unearth and make this issue public knowledge judging by the content in his ' The Black Horse Newsletter', and we now know that one major Irish  jumps trainer is alleged to have had one of his ex inmates test positive for illegal substsnces in tests privately summoned by an unnamed English based trainer.

Of course similar unproven allegations were in circulation with a major English trainer during the 1980's and 1990's and there seems to be a silent rule that if they are too good to be true then they must be up to something. It will be interesting to see if anything erupts from this but clearly, something is brimming beneath the surface.

And for this of us who realise we have a country that for the time being has an overall second division quality wise in National Hunt horses, then we also have to contend with the fact that our week to week programme is in a state of deterioration. The introduction of the Dublin Racing Festival exposes just how delusional it is to keep on expanding and diluting the Cheltenham Festival, the buzz of which is now all but gone.

The Dublin Racing Festival is jam-packed with quality, few options existing for animals to dodge one another. The timing is also perfect - think of all those animals down the years who have been prominent in the Cheltenham Ante Post markets but who meet with setbacks just prior to the meeting.The Leopardstown fixture catches and will go on catching these animals and for some it will prove to be their last appearance of the season.

For the exciting Energumene, Leopardstown would not be his final appearance of the season but he put up his optimum performance there before missing the Arkle due to setback, then reappearing at Punchestown.  Monkfish was likewise seen at his very best at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Aintree is also the poorer from the present scenario. In a sense it deserves reward for keeping to the three days but with the growth in status of the Punchestown Festival, not too mention an increase in quality support events at the Fairyhouse Irish Grand National fixture, it too is losing out.

So, into the new season proper we go. This side of the Irish Sea now clearly poorer relation by a mile in the sphere of National Hunt racing. A decade has quickly gone by since England last had a truly golden period headed by all time great Kauto Star (in picture) and the mighty Denman. It feels more and more like the distant past now.

image taken by author

A tune released just a fortnight before The Dikler won the King George V1 Chase. A time when the future of National Hunt racing seemed assured ad finitum.


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