Thursday, 22 February 2018

REGRESSION AT ITS FINEST


"I wish I was in Greenhall Whitley Land....", sang the chain gang prisoner with a footballer's perm, cracking stone in a sun drenched quarry as he dreamt of being back in the homely atmosphere of his local. 

We never did find out what wicked deed he'd carried out to receive this punishment in the first place but the makers of the advert wanted us to imagine him more of a safe-cracker than someone who mugs pensioners.

The Greenhall Whitley Gold Cup would have been run on last Saturday's Haydock Park card. It was once a race of some significance and advertised the chances of Cheltenham Gold Cup as well as Grand National hopefuls.

A version of it still exists, but is called the Betfred Grand National Trial and is a morph of the race originally carrying the Grand National Trial banner at the venue and the Greenhall Whitley. It is run over three and a half miles, the same distance as the former and two furlongs further than the race that carried the local brewery name, but is run at the same fixture as the latter, the Grand National trial originally being run in early February.

First run not long after WW2, the Grand National Trial was won by Aintree winners Freebooter and Sundew in the early years.

Red Rum won the race in 1975, drifting from 4/1 to 6/1 and described as 'backward' and in need of the run by the Raceform representative around the paddock. Three weeks later he started favourite for the Greenall Whitley but made several jumping errors and finished fourth to The Benign Bishop.

Those Haydock Park drop fences took some jumping and were ideal for prepping for Aintree. On his next start Red Rum chased home L'Escargot in the big one.

The Greenall Whitley Cup was introduced in 1968. It was won by Gold Cup winners Royal Frolic and Alverton in the 1970's, and by Gold Cup runners-up Righthand Man and Yahoo in the 1980's.

The first one I saw live was the 1977 running when Harry Wharton's grey  General Moselle landed a popular victory, being the headline horse on the front of that morning's Sporting Life.

And I remember lucidly being at the venue for the1978 running when Jonjo won aboard Rambling  Artist, having been handed the race when Ron Barry and Rambling Jack folded on landing at the last when having the race in the bag. Barry sitting still and letting the horse pop over quietly - he was a veteran rider at that stage and was getting some stick from the crowd, arguably deserved even if from the pocket.

The second horse home in that running, Lucius, would go on and win the Aintree event on his next start.

An also ran in the race was Red Rum, who was never traveling after making a bad mistake at one of the fences in the back straight and who would be making what would turn out to be his final racecourse appearance.

Shortly after he was diagnosed with a hind leg injury that led to a retirement announcement which in hindsight was probably a good thing as it prevented an animal considered public property from running at Aintree as a thirteen-year-old.

The Grand National Trial disappeared from the fixture list in the early part of the 1980's until it's reappearance in 1991, when for a few runnings it carried the Greenall Whitley name. During that decade Party Politics joined the roll of honour of those who would also win the Aintree race, along with two further Gold Cup winners, Cool Ground, and Master Oats.

Highlighting firstly the progress of the two original Haydock Park races followed by the tinkering is  an example of how messing about with something that was fine in the first place can have confusing consequences.

It also is a reminder of what a needless, disgusting move it was in ripping up that fantastic old course with its drop fences and replacing it with portables.

Oh well, they have their wish. Extra trashy summer fixtures, some shockingly poor for a track that was in the Grade One category. And they get the type of crowd they wish for too, an example of a quick fix for short term gain but long term irreversible damage the penalty for it all.

Then there is the irony of calling the present race the Grand National Trial with the alignment of the changes in the sense that like the old Haydock Park course compared to now, the present Aintree race carries the name of a race that is no more, despite it being a hugely valuable and interesting handicap chase.

So you now have animals prepping on a track that demand wise is a shadow of its former self, for a race that has similarly changed considerably in the tests that it once presented. Neptune Collonges (pictured) being a recent example.

It is very despairing when the powers that be make it a priority that racing paints an agreeable image of itself, and in doing creates a myth whereby racing is seen to have acknowledged and ironed out most of its wicked ways such as whip usage, drop fences, stiff fences, downhill fences but at the same time breaths a sigh of relief that they out there don't yet know the truth about wastage and the thousands of healthy animals who are disposed of or are lost through the system without trace.

As image is geared by visual impressions, those high up may not have approved of what last Saturday was visually a grueling pain inducing contest, won by an animal without a Grand National entry.

It won't be in their mandate to educate audiences about going too fast over long distances on testing ground, let alone trying to assure viewers how relatively safe such conditions are, when they could replay Red Maurader's Grand National as a prime example.

Not a chance of that.

Image taken by Author


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