Wednesday, 18 April 2018

A BATTLE OF THE FESTIVALS


A tightly packed fixture run of Spring festivals, no time to reflect but plenty of action to digest whether from attending or watching from afar. Cheltenham is the lucky one, it gets the first bite and even allowing for the unwise decision to stretch it an extra day and dilute the quality, it is and will continue to be the strongest and most anticipated.

In the tussle that ensues amongst the rest to keep their rank in the pecking order, Aintree is the venue most disadvantaged in the sense that it has to contend with a Fairyhouse Irish Grand National meeting that is growing as a whole, a Punchestown Festival that is now on a higher summit than it ever has been, not to mention other fixtures with eyecatching prizes.

There are those surviving 'support' races at the old Sandown Whitbread meeting that were originally designed as a one off to give opportunities for some of those animals who missed their chances when Cheltenham was lost due to the foot and mouth epidemic.

They are still in the calendar and this year a certain Altior will be appearing in the two mile chase. Admittedly, there is no Champion Chase equivalent at Aintree but surely it is in the spirit of the sport to step up in trip in the Melling on a track that beckons specialist two milers giving them a chance of getting home over half a mile further - there have been some magnificent renewals of this.

One can also not help to notice some of the prizes on offer at Fairyhouse this week and some decent quality turning out. It's all competition to Aintree.

Fact is that despite the three big championship races at Cheltenham all falling to horses trained in the south of England, the pool of horses towards the top of the pyramid is top heavy with those trained in Ireland.

They have a programme of festivals, mini-festivals, plus the regular Sundays all have an attractive structure to them with good prize money on offer. In short, apart from Cheltenham or the King George or Grand National, there is enough booty in their backyard for them to stay at home.

Last week there were more notable names missing than normal from all quarters. Thank God we did have Might Bite (pictured) appearing, a wonderful animal of the highest class with character, quirks, good looks and probably the most popular national hunt horse in training at the moment.

It was regrettable that Native River did not face him again but still an acceptable field. It is debatable whether the same could be said of the juvenile hurdle, which those with long memories will remember as the Weetabix Hurdle in the late 1970's.

This year none of the first three home in the Triumph Hurdle appeared in the race. Even the winner of the Fred Winter, Veneer of Charm, chose the Fairyhouse Grand National meeting , and for good measure also ran again at the same venue this week finishing fourth, one place behind the animal who finished fifth in the Triumph. 

Other notable absentees from the meeting were Footpad, Sandro, Presenting Percy and Shattered Love, who was another who ran at the Easter Fairyhouse  fixture. There was a time when the last two named would possibly have lined up in the staying novice chase at Liverpool

Each year you can go through the Aintree programme and note by their absence, the horses 'claimed' by rival fixtures.

In lazy mind mode it is easy to consider the fact that Aintree as a racecourse went from being lost nearly twice to becoming a modern renovated arena with terrific facilities, an expansion in fixtures, and attracting massive crowds for its showcase meeting; then to link this with a belief that the meeting as a whole attracts better quality horses than in the past.

The two issues exist side by side but are separate from one another. While again this year the meeting went down as an unqualified overall success, we must accept that the large majority of those swarming the enclosures are increasingly becoming a separate entity from the racing fan attendees, something that we would expect less in the jumping game.

A fair summary of the racecards would be that they are standing up fairly well but on the whole the quality of the three days bears some dents. Does anyone really believe Dawn Run, if she existed now, would have been appearing at Liverpool the same number of times that she did in her short career?

After finishing second in the 1983 Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle at Cheltenham, she reappeared on the Friday of Aintree to win the Page Three Handicap Hurdle; this at a time when The Sun sponsored the Grand National.The very next day she lined up in the Templegate Hurdle and ran the reigning champion hurdler Gaye Brief to a length, in receipt of only 6 lb.

The following year after winning the Champion Hurdle, she followed up at Aintree in what was now the Sandeman Aintree Hurdle. Then, after her famous Gold Cup victory in 1986, she lined up at Aintree for the race Might Bite won last week, getting no further than the first fence.

As it was down to injury why Buveur D'Air did not take his place in the Aintree Hurdle it would be unfair to cite the below par turnout for this year's renewal. Still, long gone are the times when the likes of Night Nurse, Monksfield and Sea Pigeon would line up, connections leaving the impression that it was their duty to do so.

Away from the essence of what the sport is about, there is now a growing tendency for groups of ladies to book the day off work for Aintree ladies day, dress up, meet, then spend the day in a pub.

And the following is even more concerning; I was talking to a lad in his early twenties who had gone on Thursday. There was around eight lads and girls who had gone together and booked expensive seats in one of the stands. They had not been before.

As it turned out, they felt that the atmosphere in their stand was not up to their expectations, so after a couple of races they promptly left their comfy specks behind and spent the rest of the afternoon in the marquee in Tatts, where live music played all day to a packed audience.

The racing per se was not high up on their agenda and there must be serious doubts whether any of this young party will ever be racing fans. Aintree racecourse as a business would be happy knowing they will probably return, but as the whole structure of racing needs people like these to place bets on the sport when away from the course, then they are merely wallpaper to cover cracks.

I enjoyed my Thursday with a full house of a gang of four. Two of us lifelong fans, the other two not particularly stirred at all, just content to stand with a beer and waffle about anything but racing. But no doubt God willing they'll return again next year and the year after which will of course please those doing the wallpapering.

pic by author

Monday, 9 April 2018

LIES THAT SERVE NO PURPOSE


'Scu, Francome and Jonjo:Three great jockeys who never won the Grand National.' was a short piece broadcast on ITV racing during Aintree 2017. It promised more than the run of the mill educational material aimed at the general public, but turned out to provide a classic example of how out of sync those that pull strings in the sport are with this imaginary fresh audience they want to welcome aboard.

Hugh McIlvenny suggested it was an unfortunate omission in the riding careers of Francome, Scudamore and Jonjo not to have ridden the winner of the Grand National. But the piece contained another omission that was a truly shocking exercise of tampering with history.

Moreover, they have gone and swept away their crafty prints from the video,  which can be found on the ITV racing site with a few notable seconds erased -  the part where Jonjo is asked how close he ever got to winning the Grand National as a rider.

Jonjo's reply was that he was never in with a chance was worrying confirmation that a body of people, maybe topically a ' leadership group', want to bin parts of the sport's  history that they believe won't sit comfortably with the illusory masses they wish to invite in

Alverton was a chestnut gelding with a white marking down his face. He ran in the pink and green cheque Snailwell Stud colours and once ran in the Ebor. In the Spring of 1979 he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup, led into the winner's enclosure by future Ayr Gold Cup winning apprentice Kevin Hodgson.

Run in a snowstorm, he may or may not have still won if Tied Cottage had not come down on landing at the last but off a mark allotted without this improvement taken into account,  connections  allowed him to take his chance at Aintree for which he would be only the third Gold Cup winner since World War Two to run in the Liverpool race in the same season as his Cheltenham victory.

Starting favourite, Alverton travelled supremely well from the outset under Jonjo. Down to Bechers for the second time, racing towards the outside where the drop was less severe than the inside, he was catching the eye travelling with ease when tragedy struck.

The visual facts are that short of room, Alverton took off early, clipped the top of the fence and broke his neck on landing. It was an incident that took up more news coverage than the rest of the meeting put together.

The back page of the most of the Sunday Papers displayed a photo of Alverton laying dead with a distraught Jonjo knelt alongside him. It was a bad news day for the sport if ever there was one and came at a time when the animal liberation activists put more numbers, more regular demonstrations and more spite into their attacks on the sport than is the case now.

So, the question is who connected to ITV decided that this was something that would serve no purpose to revisit and that it would be best for all to pretend that it never happened, and then as an afterthought to cover their tracks edited out the part where the rider was asked about whether he was ever in with a shout of winning the event as a jockey.

Those of us with long memories will remember Jonjo affirming the visual impression that Alverton was lobbing along and was adamant that he would have won. He was also quoted as saying that he thinks the horse may have had a massive coronary or haemorrhage and been dead before hitting the ground.

The Grand National was a hell of a test. A dangerous one for both horse and rider but let's put things into perspective - all equine sports carry a degree of real danger. In relatively recent times Kieren Kelly, an emerging talent who had partnered Hardy Eustace in all of his hurdle races during his novice season, a partnership set to continue, lost his life after being injured in a fall.

Worldwide, there have been numerous riders who have not survived from injuries sustained during a race. In eventing there have been over fifty deaths worldwide in the past twenty years.

And in show jumping, it's scary to think that thirty five years have passed since Caroline Bradley collapsed and died at just 37 years of age shortly after dismounting during a competition in Suffolk . It was a coronary but her body had gone through a hell of a lot of punishment in her life, breaking most bones at some time or another.

The show jumping personalities were household names in those days.Paul Shockemohle, Man About The House ( pictured),  Rigsby, Caroline Bradley, Chicory Tip, Bowie, Harvey Smith, Are You Being Served, Gillan, David Broome, Peter Cleal,Eddie Macken and Boomerang, Brian Connolly, Nick Skelton, Gordon Jackson, Sparks, - hard to believe but those show jumping names where not out of place in that mix.

There was no real forewarning that the sport would lose its mainstream popularity in the years that have passed since. If you search hard enough you may find it on TV.The priority is not high though. When was the last time you heard it mentioned on Sky Sports News? That runs wall to wall for twenty-four hours but show jumping does not exist. Many people have to actually be told what the sport comprises of. The Puissance hmm .....

Don't ever doubt that a similar fate could not await racing. Some clueless people with too much power want to paint a cosy John Craven's Newsround picture of the sport. For reasons without foundation, they believe a rose garden image will attract more interest and increased betting turnover. Alverton, by Christ, lets forget what happened to him.

They are pandering to an audience that exist only in their imagination. They should go out and speak to normal working people, the category of persons they need to bet on horses to safeguard its future. They should ask them whether they believe horse racing is cruel. If they did they will find they don't have an opinion either way. Many of these will pack out the cult courses but will bet on sports other than horseracing when away from their visits to the course.

The anti-racing brigade reached it's summit in the 1970's and continued strong to the 1980's. But the modern emerging generations that wish to change the world are more preoccupied with the pollution of the Oceans, and rightly so too.

Horse racing should embrace and proudly boast of it's rich in depth fascinating history, warts and all. It does not want to be led astray by misguided individuals with more power than brains because soon, as with show jumping, it may fall to a tier so low that newspaper editors will not guarantee space for racecards, and who knows, like show jumping the sport may not be considered worthy enough to merit a mention on Sky Sports.

image fair use c Thames Television


Friday, 30 March 2018

GOOD FRIDAY GARBAGE DAY


It's a great historic race that once attracted the soon to be immortal Sceptre, a race where those names on that Totopoly board up in the loft came from, and one that up to relatively recent times had an important place in the calendar

Last Saturday's Lincoln stood up to scrutiny with the best renewals of the past forty years, boasting a winner and runner-up that will both win in Group company this season, and that's something, at the beginning of the time window, the likes of Captain's Wings and Fair Season never achieved despite finding roles as stallions.

It deserved better but crammed into a disorderly fixture list a casual viewer of the sport would have had to look hard to find the event. No build up from January onwards as was once the case, the relentless and expanding AW game now meaning that you don't see the race approaching anymore.

Moreover, the concept of the ' Spring Double'  that was once very much alive with all and sundry feeling obliged to link a conversation about an upcoming Lincoln with one about the Grand National, has vanished.

Twice from the seventies onwards there were periods when the Lincoln's future was far more assured than the Grand National. Remember when the prospect of losing Aintree as a racecourse became a distinct possibility and how it was mooted whether the race should be allowed to pass away.

Alternative venues were put forward to stage the race. Newmarket was a strange one,  Haydock Park a more realistic alternative, with the other name bandied about being Donny.

Now, the Lincoln would benefit greatly from a renewed link with the Grand National, while the Aintree race, although an imitation of the one that is no more, carries a massive prize fund, publicity, and is the best known horse racing event in the British Isles, even though along with the lowering profile of the sport, is a tier or so less important than in past times.

That was how it once was. You would be familiar with the Lincoln ante-post market as soon it was established, mark a couple down that caught the eye. Cataldi, surely he'll start off in Group events, not beaten far in the Champion Stakes for God's sake ...Hastings-Bass taking Better Blessed to Cagnes to gain a fitness advantage--- Clive Brittain bullish about his planned runner but look at his trainer's talks and it's positivity about everything.

When people talk of an absent 'buzz factor' the accusation is that they live in the past, that familiarity and cynicism is something that will remove the knots in the stomach with all the sports over time. That is all very fine but this is not as common in other sports.

Ask those same racing fans who now think of the Lincoln as just another decent handicap whether they are looking forward to the Masters Golf. They will be rubbing their hands, already developing their betting portfolio for Augusta, and while they will be looking forward to Aintree the following week, everything racing will be second in the queue for those four enthralling days.

No, this is not just down to ageing familiarity. This is more to do with the sport of horse racing losing appeal within its own fanbase as well as an absence of new enthusiasts.

Today we have the hullabaloo of the nonsense that is 'All Weather Championship Day'  with seven races carrying the word 'Championships' in the plural in the title, and all non-deserving, some more so than others, and very confusing to someone who is at home and randomly tuned into ATR today.

I suppose the excuse for attaching it to the opening apprentice handicap is that it is just a race of that description on 'Championship's Day' - but why then are all the other races in the plural. Even with the conditions races, it's not clear whether any particular race is designed to be a British AW championship for that particular distance and category.

And is this doesn't grate with traditional fans, take a perusal of the prize money on offer today in some of the races at the now degraded Gosforth Park, and even over at the turf fixture at Bath. Then compare this with the funds on offer when the Newmarket Craven and Newbury Greenham fixtures come around in a few weeks time.

That is during the spell when fans will have switched truly into 'flat mode', where every three year old maiden at the big southern tracks has a 'talked up' contender, and where the Craven and Nell Gwyn, Fred Darling and Greenham can still have a bearing on the classics despite the trend to go to Newmarket without a prep.

They are the type of meetings that can still make a prospective fan bite. A Leonardo Da Vinci or Armada in the Wood Ditton, the race that produces more false dawns than most others until you become dismissive and then a Harbinger turns up.

Then all those other three year old maidens; Commander In Chief won one at Newmarket, Quest For Fame one at Newbury. Then there are those objects of glowing gallop reports of which we have our own that we remember for one reason or another.  Banana's Foster of Stoute's beat in his Newmarket maiden and turned out to be very mediocre. Cecil's Mr Flourocarbon won his Newbury maiden and would be taking the Queen Anne a couple of months later.

The point is that these fixtures have a soul, produce tingles, are fuel for hours of lively discussions packed with the customary 'what if'' and 'could be' scenarios, and more importantly of all show that the sport has a fascinating depth to it.

It's far away from hyped up soulless garbage on show at Lingfield and Newcastle today. Best to hope that anyone staying indoors and channel hopping doesn't stop the button on ATR because they may be put off the sport for good.

image © Michael Trolove 

Monday, 19 March 2018

IT JUST GETS WORSE

 

That familiar sight of swarming enclosures and packed grandstands that the TV cameras regularly focus on was accompanied by smooth Ed Chamberlin's statement that the Cheltenham Festival ' just gets bigger and better'.

The fixture is unquestionably being stretched so is indeed bigger in the context of number of races, number of runners, day on day attendances and money spent by the attendees.

But as the likes of the Guinness Village and the other all day drinking and loitering areas continue to expand, it would appear that the racecourse is more interested in the Glastonbury style festive racegoer than the connoisseur racing fan, which is after all surely what an event that styles itself as being the 'Olympics of jump racing' should be designed for.

Looking at it from a Glasto perspective, this is not pie in the sky for it is only the weather which is the main barrier to an idea that is workable and a potential big money spinner. There is room for the festival goers to pitch their tents, room for stages to be erected, and all without the density of adjoining residential properties for council permission to be attainable.

Aintree also has ample space for this to be introduced. Indeed the venue has a place in modern history for accommodating big crowds for concerts as thirty years ago this September, 125,000 eager souls flocked to the venue to see Michael Jackson perform.

And if anyone wishes to profile the modern racegoer that these venues cater for, they can note that the pre-race concerts Aintree have in their indoor school now continue throughout the racing with some 'racegoers' watching the performances against the backdrop of a giant screen showing the racing.

Don't ever be shocked if very soon one of these trashy concert Summer evening meetings becomes an all night music festival. Would have to be somewhere out of earshot of highly populated residential areas to be given permission but the Newmarket July Course that initiated this trend thirty odd years ago when having the likes of Tom Jones and Suzi Quatro on the bill might start the ball rolling.

The nearby National Stud would have plenty to say though. It's not a prospect which that establishment would be over the moon about.

As to Ed Chamberlin announcing that the Cheltenham Festival is better than ever, just take a look at Laurina who stirred up a bit of a wow factor but one very much tinged with regret knowing that in the past she would have lined up in the Supreme Novices or the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle.

When you consider the choice of targets now available, you cannot help but mull over some vintage renewals of these events and realise how lucky we were to have them at the time.

As an example, the 1984 Sun Alliance Novices Hurdle when Sabin Du Loir beat Dawn Run and West Tip. If that was 2018, Dawn Run would have ran in the Mares Novices event, West Tip in the three mile novices hurdle, with Sabin Du Loir, who was only four at the time, in the same event, the Ballymore as it is now called, or the Triumph.

And for good measure, the unplaced horses in the race included Lettoch, Ballinacura Lad, Mister Lord and Duke of Milan.

To show these examples are far from isolated, two years before the needless introduction of the three mile novice hurdle, the same race was won by Hardy Eustace, followed home by Coolnagorna, Pizarro and Lord Sam.

Nowadays, almost certainly Lord Sam and highly likely Pizzaro, would have lined up for the three miler.

This is dilution at its finest and you can go through the card each day over the past ten years and find clear examples of the quality of events being watered down.

It was disparaging to hear Willie Mullins interviewed after Laurina's victory when he suggested that the ideal race for her would be a mares only chase, which he had heard that the course were planning to introduce.

This truly is not what Cheltenham is about. The idea surely is to mould your charge for the event, not for the course to produce a race for your needs. Think Anaglog's Daughter or Lesley Anne. If they fancy fences with Laurina then it is either the Arkle or RSA where she will have the mare's allowance.

What irks is that this stretched out diluted festival will not be turning back. Quevega is already a legend from a race that should not exist. If they did have a Glasto style festival they would probably have a Quevega Stage.

The Fred Winter well and truly killed off the buzz that would emanate around the Triumph Hurdle. The cavalry charge to the first, horses who had not run in a hurdle race with such a lick on before. Sometimes a once or twice raced could be anything type from a fashionable yard would win. Other times it would be a real hardy sort who had been on the go all season.

Ironically, many of those who were against the introduction of this event, and still regret it's existence, are now up in arms about Boodles wanting the Fred Winter name dropped from the title.

Well, although the race had played its part in degrading the festival it will always be known as the Fred Winter. The name Boodles conjures up the advert from around twenty years ago with Thelma from the Likely Lads revealing to a friend that she is one of their customers.

Now Thelma and the Cheltenham Festival; far from compatible.

picture from Wiki Commons Library

Sunday, 11 March 2018

WORRYING TIMES FOR PIPE


The Professor Caroline Tisdall colours, Tom Scudamore with his coloured gumshield, plus a perceived feeling of hopefulness without any real expectation, are thoughts that come to the fore when the name Pipe is mentioned.

It all seems a long way away from all those machines, many of them front runners who galloped on with seemingly limitless reserves, and who progressed upwards at a rate of knots through the ranks until reaching their ceiling.

From a region whose flag bearers were David Barons,  John Jenkins and even Milton Bradley, and one that was the weakest area of all and put in the shade by Lambourn, the North, Ireland and even the Midlands, Baron Blakeney's 1981 Triumph Hurdle victory kicked off a trend that would by the end of the eighties make the true West Country the most powerful UK arm of national hunt racing.

Overall though, the quality of animal that came into the yard was no better than the rival trainers and the costly Irish stores would mostly evade him, with most of the patrons not prepared to spend fortunes and a long time waiting.

The most impressive aspect of the regime had been the ability to recondition - if that's the correct word - intakes from other yards that had hit a dead end in their careers then revitalise them, often having an attractive handicap mark to play with. Beau Ranger being a fine example of this.

But sometimes there were horses taken in from proven trainers in reasonably fair shape that suddenly jumped to a higher level, such as Bonanza Boy from Philip Hobbs and the mighty Carvill's Hill from Jim Dreaper.

Everyone can come up with numerous examples from either of the above scenarios, there were just so many.

While nothing lasts some things last longer than others and in a sport like horse racing it can never be an individual. It is always a combination of factors, sometimes a couple, often several.

So when the time arrived a couple of decades later for Martin Pipe to hand over to son David, the dominance of Pond House had been whittled away, and in his last two seasons with a licence, Pipe Snr was beaten to the championship by nearby rival Paul Nicholls.

We were told that other trainers began to ape the Pipe method of training which leads to the conclusion that there was a hell of a lot of pretty dumb handlers with a licence in the first place.

There had also existed the exploitation of the French marketplace and building up a contact network to ensure a continuous intake of promising young recruits before the crowd followed and pushed the demand and cost up.

It cannot be denied that the alarm bells are now ringing at Pond House. Look at it this way, ten consecutive years that saw the million marker in prize money surpassed on eight occasions, and close to being reached on the other two, and topped by a Grand National success with Comply Or Die (pictured).

Then came last season.A fall to the three-quarters of a million mark and a comparatively meagre number of winners, fifty-nine in all. If ever a good bounce back season was needed then this was it.

Even allowing for the fact that the yard had has had its share of misfortune, with Starchitect being the notable example, the season has been catastrophic, with a dearth of winners that those connected to the famous set up are not used to experiencing.

Twenty-six winners, striking at under 10% and £359,000 in prize money, meaning a grandstand Spring performance is desperately needed, albeit from where it will come is not apparent.

With David Johnson gone many of the quality horses in the yard carry the Professor Tisdall colours, some owned outright or some in partnership.

Vieux Lion Rouge has been a flag bearer for the yard but is most likely not going to win an Aintree Grand National now, which he had promised to do. It must be said that the decision to run him in the Charlie Hall before the Bechers was a strange one for an animal whose preference for a good break between appearances is well documented.

The talented Un Temps Pour Tout is long term sidelined while Dell Arca is one you feel they have never truly got to grips with, and may have benefited from a switch elsewhere two seasons back, not something you would once have recommended for a Pond House inmate.

And the tale of woe continues with Champers On Ice not developing into the animal he promised to be,Celestial Path who looked an exciting recruit from Sir Mark Prescott's yard but has been dire from the outset,while Moon Racer who was destined to put the yard back on the map has suffered from an interrupted career though may still be worth a second look in the County Hurdle this week.

Being realistic, the big hope for the near future comes in the shape of the Angrove family owned Know The Score. He lines up in the Bumper this week and as with many of those likeable Flemensfirths, he will need conditions reasonably testing to have any chance.

Most owners go with who's in vogue. The most extreme example when Howard Johnson revealed that he was approached by several different parties previously unknown to him but all wanted a horse with him in light of the publicity generated from the money invested in new inmates for the yard by Graham Wylie.

Another example and a bizarre one at that would be Richard Phillips being selected to take over at Jackdaws Castle from David Nicholson, on the basis of him having nous for the modern day world or some similar nonsense. This was in the face of Nicholson recommending Alan King who appeared the logical choice to all onlookers.

With the vogue theme in mind, there is nothing like a festival winner to put your name in the reckoning, particularly from a race designed to throw up horses that go on to better things.

Cue Card's Champion Bumper victory did wonders for Colin Tizzard and took him to a new level. With David Pipe, it is a case of returning him to a level of success he was accustomed to, and an unlikely success for Know The Score could kick-start the comeback that to be truthful is looking in some doubt.

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


Monday, 12 February 2018

ANOTHER OBTUSE PROPOSAL

Tomt S CC BY-SA 3.0

Before leaving Stanley House for a spell at Manton, John Gosden suggested that the community of Newmarket are fenced off and have their thoughts dominated so much by horse racing that if a nuclear war was raging, they would go about their lives oblivious to it all.

Judging by some of the opinions emanating from some of the town's inhabitants recently, there are also plenty of deluded out of touch individuals when it comes to considering problems in their own profession.

William Jarvis, who has had a training career laid on a plate for him but still underperformed, is concerned how a drop in the minimum stake on the cancerous FOBTS may jeopardise those in his profession.

"The racing industry cannot absorb a drop in prize money and that's a fact. " Jarvis stated, rather pompously.

There is no escape that the intention that FOBTS are designed for is to turn vulnerable individuals upside down and shake them until every remaining penny tumbles from their pockets.

Horse racing in the UK has a bloated fixture list dominated by poor, unattractive fare that fails to inspire not only the emerging generations but the long term fans too. As a result, many are happy to see the shortfall in revenue resulting from the increasing trend for punters to turn their attention to other sports, subsidised by the slot players.

A sport that once took for granted that its position as the dominant source of activity for punters has not only stood still as the other major sports have thrived; it has with its gimmicky makeovers, wall to wall trashy cards and misunderstood 'forward thinking', taken a step backwards and fallen out of the major sport tier.

Fellow Newmarket trainer Mark Tompkins at least understands that if racing is having to rely on FOBTS, then something must be wrong with the model in the first place.

In the USA there has since the millennium been an increase in the number of racetracks turned into what they term as 'Racinos'. These are basically racecourse with large halls full of slot machines which are in operation during the race meeting.

In locations where the racetrack is near to the main river, there have been situations where large riverboat casinos have parked up nearby on a race day to try and entice the players away from the race track, in turn threatening the very existence of the venue as many only survive because of the additional income from the slots.

Curiously, I found a so called  'academic study' from four American University professors who concluded that there had been an increase in the actual horse race wagering at tracks where the slot machines were allowed. They also noted that there was spike on the racing awareness graph in the aftermath of the film Seabiscuit.

One of the UK team covering stateside racing of an evening once stated that the USA is the 'heartland' of the sport. If so, then the sport worldwide is doomed. True, the sport in that country had a golden period in the 1970's that was arguably unrivaled anywhere else in any other country in the world, but in the four decades that have almost passed since there has been no repeat.

In short, the tormented empty minds hooked on the FOBTS are not the same as those who may risk and lose a sizeable amount of money after spending a few days getting stuck into the form for an Ebor day card.

One group would understand and accept the risk and consequences of a poor day, month or year.They garner enjoyment from the challenge. The other would have no idea why they are doing what they are doing but moronically press away at the buttons.

And returning to that comment about Newmarket during a nuclear world war, John Gosden has in the past day added his support for some dreadful sounding new concept that he describes as a ' timely initiative' in light of the predicted fall in revenue from a reduction in maximum per spin FOBT stakes.

This stupid, stupid planned series comprises of a dozen teams with thirty horse each partaking in a series of six £100,000 handicaps.

This in light of the fact that we already know that the team sport concept in racing does not appeal and shows the sport in the wrong light, that valuable handicaps are ten a penny throughout the season, and that all recent new initiatives have failed to broaden the appeal of the sport.

Gosden is out of touch with reality and from his position on the inside knows less about what makes racing truly appeal to those on the outside, than those of us on the outside know about training racehorses, which is not much at all.

Will they ever learn that what they are doing is slowly chipping away at the part of the sport that is unique when put alongside other sports, apart from athletics. A fixture list that retains the same shape as a century ago and one that until recently added new events after careful consideration.

It's now a free for all and more new events, meetings, changes in planning have been introduced in the past thirty years than the previous one hundred and fifty years, without any benefit to the sport as a whole.

In years gone by those who wanted to look ahead to the flat season would already have burnt a considerable amount of midnight oil looking to the Lincoln. Remember that competition run by the Sporting Life where you would pit your skills against the handicapper by trying to predict the Lincoln weights.

One winner impressed them so much that he was given a private handicapping job for the newspaper in days when those jobs paid comparatively well compared with now.

Unfortunately, with the soulless all weather nonsense appearing daily throughout the Winter no one really talks of the Lincoln or Spring double anymore though I suppose some trainers are glad they don't have to run a horse at Cagnes - sur - Mer to try and obtain a fitness advantage.

And with the Ante -Post markets for the classics dominated by masses of pretentiously named Ballydoyle representatives, the Ante-Post markets from Cheltenham a minefield with the multiple options for horses available, we just have the Grand National In Name Only Chase weights to peruse during this week, and that's an event that is merely an imitation of the real event which has now passed by.

A BATTLE OF THE FESTIVALS

A tightly packed fixture run of Spring festivals, no time to reflect but plenty of action to digest whether from attending or watching fr...

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