Thursday, 10 October 2013

Looking Forward to Christmas

When the BHA finally published the 2014 fixture list this week, it contained 1,464 events including 7 at Cartmel. While it may sound pretty mundane to state that we have been allocated an almost-identical list of fixtures to last year, the process has involved a significant amount of time and effort over the last few months as bargains have been struck between BHA, the Levy Board, the Horsemen and racecourses. 

Just under 40% of the fixtures are over jumps, 40% are Flat fixtures on turf, while the remaining 20% are Flat race meetings taking place on all-weather surfaces. The most controversial development is the introduction of a new all-weather fixture worth £1 million at Lingfield Park – because it has been scheduled to take place on Good Friday, a day which has traditionally been kept clear of racing. 

The decision to race on Good Friday will be welcomed by the off-course betting industry, who will benefit significantly from increased turnover. However, I can’t help feeling that it will be a retrograde step for racing enthusiasts and some participants of the sport. For me, an enforced day off brings on withdrawal symptoms and makes me look forward to racing on Easter Saturday with renewed enthusiasm. As a child, I didn’t think Christmas Day could get any better, but now that it is the only racing-free day in the calendar, there's a new reason to look forward to it - the super-accentuated excitement of Boxing Day! 

On receiving the new fixture list, the first thing that I do is highlight the important days with a felt-tip pen. Apart from three Cartmel race-days in May (24th , 26th & 28th), two in July (19th & 21st) and two in August (23rd & 25th), there is the Cheltenham Festival (11th – 14th March) and Aintree Grand National (5th April). This year we are planning to stage lunches in the Grandstand on several of the major dates, with live action being shown on large televisions. 

The basic structure of the fixture list allows key races to slot into a familiar and reassuring pattern. For example, a couple of visitors from the West Country on Monday told me that they were “looking forward to the start of the jumps season at Chepstow this weekend”. Now… the 2013/14 jumps season started months ago at Wetherby and Ludlow, and there was jump racing at Chepstow as recently as ten days ago – so what on earth were they talking about? 

Well... for many years the first really valuable race of the jumps season was a limited handicap for 4 year old hurdlers at Chepstow. It attracted the best of the previous season’s juveniles and it was always interesting to see how they had developed over the Summer.

The race still exists, though slightly less prestigious than it once was. While Pistol looks well handicapped on his pre-festival form, I am recommending For Two, who looked a lovely prospect last year.

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