Saturday, 19 August 2017

A SPORT THAT HAS SEEN BETTER DAYS



There was a time when the old Tuesday opening day of the York Ebor meeting held the unique distinction that in staging the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup and Yorkshire Oaks, it was the only day in the UK calendar that had two Group One races on the card.

This was before the ' Pattern' was wrecked by upgrading a plethora of races to the highest level without balancing the structure by equally downgrading events,which was the intention when the whole thing was introduced.

Next week's Ebor meetings will be the seventh fixture at the Knaveshmire this year.The first day will be the twelfth day of racing of the year.The corresponding meeting forty years back was the fourth fixture of the year with the opening day being the eighth day of racing.

As with Chester, another venue that draws in the 'cult' crowds,York has slotted in extra fixtures and, quite frankly, all of them exude a trashy ambiance.

I would class a cult crowd as one made up of customers who visit a particular venue in the belief it is the fashionable thing to do so.They not only care diddly squat about the quality of racing on offer but would not be fussy about what sport they were viewing and would be just as likely to pack these venues out if they were racing motorbikes around the track on some makeshift carpet surface.

Before the Ebor meeting in 1977 we had the Mecca Dante meeting in May, where Lucky Sovereign in the Moller colours won the big one and would later chase The Minstrel home in the Irish Derby.

This was followed by the Timeform Charity meeting on the weekend before Royal Ascot. The showcase three year old sprint handicap was won by the gambled on Barry Hills trained Ernie Johnston ridden Mofida. She went on to be the second dam of Zafonic.

Then to John Smith's Magnet Cup day, the big handicap won that year by Bill Wightman's tough nut Air Trooper ridden by ultra lightweight Taffy Thomas.The spread of weights large enough then to give more of these riders opportunities and a career, although on this occasion the allotted weight
was 9 st 6 lb.

We have of course had the same fixtures and events this year too, but in addition we have had some needless, poor by course standard cards.

On the 27th May we had a Saturday card with a six furlong sprint handicap the feature event. I attended this fixture a few years back with a party of work colleagues, most of whom were so interested in the racing that they never left the bar and some never even bothered having a bet. Racegoers eh !

We discovered later that shortly after the last race a customer in high spirits sliding down a staircase banister in the stands had fallen to the ground floor and suffered fatal injuries.

Then on the 30th June they staged a fixture headed ' Summer Music Saturday', followed on the 27th and 28th July by the 'Music Showcase Weekend',which comprised of a Friday evening fixture followed by a concert, and a tiring further concert at the end of the afternoon card the following day.

The Ebor meeting itself in 1977 lasted three days.The Tuesday was my first visit to the venue and the last time I've been inside York Minster.

The Acomb Stakes was won by the Queen's Tartan Pimpernel, with the owner present to see her Epsom Oaks winner Dunfermine take part in the Yorkshire Oaks.There were three newcomers in the Acomb who the Raceform paddock watchers described as ' gd srt ', and who for this lofty description alone would have entered hundreds of note books as ones to keep an eye on

All three had lovely pedigrees to which makes you just wonder if the Raceform paddock watchers felt more inclined to add the description if there were other reasons why they believed they may turn out smart.

Peter Walwyn's Magnitude,by Mill Reef out of Guineas and Oaks winner Altesse Royale never managed to win a race with his last run the following year coming at lowly Brighton, while Bruce Hobbs's Taxiarchos out of the celebrated broodmare Stilvi,did at least prove useful and ran in the Guineas.

Clive Britain's Julio Mariner was a full brother to the 1975 Oaks winner Juliette Marny. He would go on and win the 1978 St Leger.

The Benson and Hedges promised some potentially fascinating outcomes.With the likes of The Minstrel and Blushing Groom already retired,the Piggott ridden Ballydoyle representative Artaius had won the Eclipse and threatened to prove himself the best three year old in Europe.

He ran in the Mrs George Getty 11 colours. Yes, the Gettys, those oil rich,highly eccentric, Cricket loving ones. Something about the name.

George Getty the 2nd had died four years earlier at the age of 49 after falling and hitting his head at a poolside barbecue party. The racehorse owning Mrs Getty was his second wife, her name being Jacqueline Riordan who was already an extremely rich widow before marrying him.

There was undoubtedly a more interesting assortment of owners at the top level then.They don't make owners like that anymore.

Artaius was beaten by 33/1 outsider Relkino trained by Dick Hern and ridden by Willie Carson. The Artaius aura had evaporated but the following day another Ballydoyle colt Alleged, staked his first claim to greatness when spreadeagling the Great Voltigeur field.

He would win his first of two Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes that Autumn but not before being outstayed by Dunfermline in the St Leger.

Dunfermline was beaten into third at York after turning into the straight in sixth while the winner Busaca, was ridden from the front by Eddery. Trained by Peter Walwyn she was owned by the Hungarian Countess Esterhazy, from a family of centuries old Hungarian nobility.

In contrast Wednesday's Ebor went to Move Off, owned by a commoner in David Barker, while the Lowther was won by the Richard Hannon trained Enstone Spark who would win the following  years 1,000 Guineas after being sold and transfered to Barry Hills yard.

Thursday's  William Hill  Sprint Championship saw another Ballydoyle odds on shot beat in Godswalk, caught on the line by Haveroid. The winner was trained  by the vet Neil Adam who excelled with his sprinters.Vets and sprinters always had mischief making tongues wagging.

The now established four day version of the meeting is pretty good but not so gripping or intense as the original.The Ebor feels uncomfortable on a Saturday. This year Middlesbrough, Sheffield United, Manchester United, Huddersfield and Newcastle all have home fixtures on the same day. All form part of the large catchment area for York racecourse.

There is also Belgian GP qualifying earlier in the day. Something that generates more interest than horse racing, whether we like to admit it or not.

There cannot be many more badly run sports than UK horse racing. The flat has a bloated fixture list made up mainly of poor quality cards. The top level is dominated by too few forces. It really was better back then!

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