Monday, 2 July 2018

MIDSUMMER MUCHNESS


It was a tiring weekend trying to keep tabs on all the overlapping, frenzied sporting action. And apart from the card at the Curragh, racing was lost on most people, including no doubt many of those attending the UK meetings up and down the country.

Newmarket had a long established fixture just about respectable enough for a track of its calibre, but York( in picture) and Chester staged more recent additions to their expanding fixture list and willingness to host crummy cards.

But none are as disconcerting than Newcastle staging its showcase flat meeting and once revered Northumberland Plate Card on a synthetic surface. So difficult to feel at ease with, it's a spectacle that stinks in contrast to some of the wonderful renewals we had of the traditional Pitman's Derby in its original form.

Every time now that Newcastle racecourse stages a flat meeting it has become recently established custom to remind that this was the scene of Enable's winning racecourse debut in November 2016. With horse racing facing a variable future, there is no knowing whether this connection will be repeated for as long as Haydock Park being linked to the Epsom Derby winner Tulyar winning the Buggin's Farm Nursery there in 1951, or Salisbury being the location where Mill Reef defeated Fireside Chat on his racecourse bow.

These nostalgic titbits are mentioned less often nowadays as the succession of passing interest in the sport down a generation has come to a standstill in a Football dominated world. Unlike in the time of Mill Reef's debut, and most definitely Tulyar's Nursery victory, there is high definition footage of horse racing and means of accessing archives without cost, not to mention the saviour for those with large collections of mouldy, ruined VRH tapes -  You Tube.

It's all so simple to access, something that racing fans of many decades back could not have envisaged happening, even when they believed commercial flights around the moon would be in existence before the millennium.

Problem racing in general has though is that the interested has plummetted and the numbers who like watching archive footage are a fraction of those that would have drooled over this facility had it been available 40 years back.

And as trumped up on ITV's coverage of racing on Saturday, added now to the Gosforth Park list of honour are Without Parole and Stradivarius. It all very much had the undertone of an attempted justification come apology for broadcasting a fixture ruined by Arena Leisure's unpopular move to sand over the track.

If you want to stretch things and polish the crown of the AW scene even further, you can claim that Galileo ran at Southwell, which he did one midweek morning in a prep gallop for his Breeders Cup Classic challenge.

But just like all those years ago when Luton Town, QPR, Oldham Athletic and Blackpool laid down those synthetic football pitches, these all-weather surfaces emit a tinny aura and remove much of the grace that a turf fixture at the height of summer contains.No one can possibly deny this.

With plenty of water streaming under the bridge since this form of racing was introduced on the basis of providing horse racing to LBO's on frozen winter days, the UK now has half a dozen AW venues.

When playing fair and searching for a reasonable positive over the introduction of sand racing, we automatically jump on the issue of trainers needing somewhere to introduce their juveniles late in the season when the turf up and down the country is cut up.

Moreover, even the majority who fail to get stirred by this form of racing will at least when looking at the results pay plenty of attention to the two year old maiden races, as these unearth their fair share of future big race performers.

For those who had been paying scant respect to these contests, Ghanaati proved perhaps the game changer. She first appeared at Kempton in September 2008, finishing third. She then followed on by winning at the same location the following month.

The next time we saw her was in winning the 1,000 Guineas the following year before following up in the Coronation Stakes. Her career never began at Kempton by fluke. They clearly thought something of her at the time and saw no problem in using a synthetic surface for her juvenile starts.

What is a curious aspect of this need to keep quality horses away from testing ground is the willingness of all the Irish trainers to start their best charges off in testing ground at the beginning of the season.

Almost all of these animals improve when they step on better ground and of the multitude of high class performers who start the season off in testing ground, you would be hard pressed to name a single horse who has had his or her season compromised by beginning their campaigns running in unsuitably testing conditions.

Sinndar ran in the Ballysax on his three year old debut in the soft, Galileo won the same race in soft ground on his seasonal debut after winning a backend maiden in heavy. Add to this Harzand winning the Ballsax on heavy, two weeks on from winning a Cork maiden on his three year old debut in similarly described ground. Not forgetting that Sea The Stars won a two year old maiden on ground described as 'soft to heavy',

Even Vincent  O'Brien started The Minstrel off in such appalling ground that they needed to start the races off by flag. This was in the Ascot 2,000 Guineas Trial on the same day that Red Rum won his third Grand National.

These were all subsequent Derby winners, all in the hands of trainers who knew the talent they were nurturing. In every case, all of the horses needed better ground to display their true talents. This is just a small sample but the gist is clear, it's all a load of nonsense about the potential that testing conditions have to spoil the future of top class horses.

It is now hard to imagine a situation in which racing will exist here without any all-weather courses. Even if a crisis hits the sport and a spate of course closures follow, business requirements dictate at least one or two of these venues will continue and will be there if and when the sport finally drops another tier as to not warrant media acknowledgement it presently receives.

And on this current run of Summer weekends where we are spoilt for choice for high quality televised, thriving sports that do not depend on revenue from betting for their survival, the masses of self-proclaimed 'sports fans' will not spend too much time musing over the sport's struggles.

image taken by author

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