Saturday, 30 December 2017


There are plenty of positive news stories bigging up the health of horse racing at the moment. Maybe it is just that time in the calendar when the year is looked back upon and the we see only the high points. There is no doubt that those within the circle are 'given' a responsibility to advertise what is going right.

To be honest it wasn't the most memorable of flat seasons. The highlight being a Cheshire Oaks winner rising above the rest in Europe. While one of the low points would have to be an Epsom Derby winner who must have both shocked and embarrassed connections on his big day given the damage he done to the portfolio and the would be marketable Cliffs of Moher.

By a sire who had quickly been downgraded to the dual purpose ranks, Wings Of Eagles progeny will first be seen in the French provinces and the back of beyond, shop window point to point venues in Ireland.

On a lighter note an unusual distinction connected with Wings Of Eagles emanates from his run in the Chester Vase. He must be the first horse on the Epsom roll of honour to have had the in running form book comment  "ridden and 'disorganised' over 1f out" used in his Derby prep run. In fact he must be the only Epsom Derby winner ever to have the term 'disorganised' used in a form book commentary in any career run.The picture above shows him in fourth place becoming 'disorganised'.

The set in pattern to abandon the narrow and rigid but just as reliable set of form book terms, and give licence to the form book race readers to replace them with whatever words they see fit to use is arguably not needed, but not harmful to the sport. However, it is consistent with the way the sport is changing at pace and not changing for the better.

Changes applied without considered thought given to the long term impact they will have has caused irreparable damage to the sport.

The annual public relations pantomime that comes with the 'Grand National in Name Only Chase' is evidence that even the deluded individuals running the sport believe that the best way forward is to become apologetic,pliable and condescending to fend off a threat to the sport that had ceased to exist.

In a world where those who would in previous generations have had horse racing high up on their hit list but who now have more pressing issues concerning pollution of our oceans, those pulling the strings of racing have stupidly gone and exaggerated the dangers of national hunt racing.

Not only have they taken the challenge out of the 'Grand National In Name Only Chase', they've now also created a make believe scenario,whereby the equine participants need to enter a cold shower room to ensure survival from the consequence of their exertions.

What was a national treasure and a sporting event up with the best of them has now been ruined. National Hunt racing itself is in danger, the situation the fault of those within.

Adding to neutering the famous Aintree race, they have too taken the character from Haydock Park. Even the Cheltenham Festival is now beginning to suffer from the greed driven decision to stretch it out and dilute it.

The Ryanair Chase is detrimental to both the Gold Cup and Champion Chase, the Fred Winter has changed the hard knock ambiance that the old Triumph Hurdles had, while there was no need for the three mile novice hurdle. They either keep the old Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle at two and a half mile, or increase it's distance to three. Adding the extra event brings nothing but dilution of quality.

And what of mares only events ? If they are given sex allowances in the other events why should they have their own championship races installed. It would be idiotic to cite the flat programme as support for this as national hunt racing is in the main a true sport.

Think of  Vautour and think of the Ryanair. We'll never know how he would have fared in a Gold Cup but he was a mighty interesting proposition. If there was no Ryanair Chase we would have seen him in a Gold Cup, or even a Queen Mother Champion Chase. Cue Card is another. He could have added his quality and charisma to any of these two events in 2013.

The stayers with a touch of class who are ideally more King George than Gold Cup horses can prove fascinating contenders in the Champion Chase. One Man is a prime example.

And what of Best Mate's first Gold Cup?  Given that going into the race there still existed a niggling doubt as to whether he would truly see the full trip out,Knight, Biddlecombe and Lewis may have opted for the Ryanair in that particular season if the race had been in place then.

When Kauto Star beat Denman in the 2009 Gold Cup, Imperial Commander won the Ryanair. While he would win the Gold Cup the following year his presence would have enriched the 2009 renewal further, even if as just a supporting role player. After all it is supposedly the Blue Riband of steeplechasing and not an event to be even part compromised by some filler invention.

But the stories are all positive right now. A great product, going forward and all that. And record prize money on offer in 2018, despite the future funding of the sport yet to be resolved.

When the last generations of horse race punters cease to exist racing cannot survive at it's present level. Admittedly, the cult courses can rake in enough revenue to fund their own existence if needs be, but that does not apply to the majority of venues and the infrastructure will crumble when racing's share of the betting pie eventually becomes meagre.

This failure to look inward and concentrate on the weak points of the sport is a problem horse racing has had for many years. Such an attitude caused minimal damage when things were rosier, but this approach will cause tangible damage as the sport sinks to a lower tier.

picture, property of author

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