Monday, 23 October 2017

THE ROOT CAUSE OF THIS CHAMPIONS DAY NONSENSE




I cannot remember many moaning that there was too much wrong with the Champion Stakes when it was run in its true home of Newmarket. Sure enough there was a winding down feel to the meeting, a worn hue to the turf, but the race itself could offer a final opportunity for a reputation to be consolidated or re-established, it could put the icing on a career, or could hold out promise for the following year for those remaining in training.

Three years before it moved from Newmarket, Derby winner New Approach won in commanding style, showing very much that the race was alive and still taken seriously. And there is no question that Frankel would still have competed if the race had remained in its birthplace. Certainly, the introduction of the Breeders Cup had not harmed it to any measurable degree.

The Cesarewitch would share the card, the Houghton Stakes would throw up something to deliberate about over the Winter, and the day before we'd have had the Dewhurst, deservedly being the showcase of the card. Far too important a race to be demoted to a supporting event.

Not much amiss with that original format at all, and no justification for tinkering with it. Brough Scott would praise the fixture to the hilt when he fronted it for C4. Which is all the more baffling that he expressed wholehearted approval of the race in its new slot when asked about it during racing on Saturday.

Let's lay down what this 'Champions Day' actually comprises of. It is the Newmarket race moved to Ascot ,then put on the QE 11 card along with the Jockey Club Cup, which has been given a new fancy name and a prize money boost.The old Princess Royal Stakes, and Diadem Stakes, have likewise been given pretentious names and prize money boosts.

Not sure if I'm missing anything, but could they just have not boosted the money levels for the original events,kept them in their traditional slots, and retained their race titles.

There exists a modern, unjustified belief, that things need to be jazzed up to attract attention. This meeting is the result of a naive eye-catching initiative that will end up being tampered with again sometime soon.Jam packing long entrenched races on the same card minimizes their individual importance in the eyes of observers.

Horse racing, at least in its original home of the UK, is  a sport whose clockwork, rigid calendar has been one of it's main strengths. Regrettably,it has seen more obtuse, misled individuals tampering with it in the past thirty years than in the previous two hundred.

This has arisen from a desire to emulate the Breeders Cup meeting.The first attempt was shoving a card of decent races together, with a prize money boost, on QE 11 day in the 1990's .Then came a bit of tampering with Champion Stakes day at Newmarket, such as adding the Dewhurst and all that.

Looking back,there can rarely have been so much fanfare, anticipation, and with it a little fear of the unknown, as the first ever staging of the Breeders Cup approached."From now on", a spokesman for the event announced, "all events in racing will be known as BBC or ABC"

In other words, the impact of this new event would be so significant that in the future historians would be required to know whether a set of achievements occurred before the Breeders Cup was in existence, or after.

Such a cocksure broadcasts did have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Particularly when you consider that the whole idea had been woven together to address the concern that horse racing was losing ground in the television audience figures to the other sports.

This was an attempt to make the sport a competitor with Baseball, Basketball, and their God that is NFL.Many years later in the UK, Peter Savill would be making not too dissimilar comments when supporting the explosion in the fixture list, and the intention to make racing competitive with footy.

Just three years before the first Breeders Cup, there had been plenty of pretentious noise over the introduction of the Arlington Million. In 1983, Pat Eddery gave Luca Cumani's Tolomeo an inspired ride to claim a first European victory in the event.

When the Breeders Cup got off the blocks at Hollywood Park in 1984, the importance of the Arlington Million dropped a league.The next new big thing had put the race in the shade.

Traditionalists wishing ill luck on the event would be left feeling sour. It was an unqualified success and gripped UK fans in its second staging at Aqueduct in 1985, when Pebbles, following on from a mighty impressive Champion Stakes victory, won the Breeders Cup Turf under another fine Eddery ride.

Moreover, who can forget the publicity generated for the sport back home when the mighty Dancing Brave took his place on the line up for the 1986 Breeders Cup Turf.

As well as getting a showing on a special late evening C4 broadcast, Dancing Brave's mission received considerable exposure in the mainstream news. Cameras visited a pub where Guy Harwood's lads readied themselves for what they, like most of us, thought  would be a formality.

With some wearing baseball caps baring the horse's name, the cameras recorded their frozen, disbelieving expressions, as it dawned on them that ' The Brave' would not be winning.

The event was now cemented as an extension of the European calendar.You could travel over after taking in Longchamp with not much to lose.There would be easy excuses in place for below par efforts if the sparks fizzled out.

Fast forward to 2008 at Santa Anita, the meeting now with fourteen races carrying a BC title.The event spread over two days.Something has been missing from the new, Punchestownesque watered down version ever since. At least they have cut out the Marathon which was producing the most questionable 'champions', but there are still thirteen events from an original seven.

They should watch they do not inflict self harm on what has been a great success. It has a history now, if only a recent one, but a very proud one. It is nevertheless a very American concept, and something that belongs there.Continually muddling up the fixture list to try copycat events will serve no useful purpose

Picture author Lisa Andres

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