Monday, September 05, 2016

Open(ish) Day ahoy!

I will be interested to watch this week's Uttoxeter meeting on ATR as I gather that I may have been overly pessimistic about their new jumps.  I feared the worst when word reached me that the course was about to dispense with traditional hurdles and replace them with something different.  However, it transpires that they won't be using the impostors which I abhor, the pretend-hurdles which one sees at Worcester, Southwell, Haydock and which seem to be in vogue at present in Ireland.  Instead they will be using hurdles, hurdles who differ from the normal ones only in that they are filled with some sort of padding rather than with birch.

That all sounds rather promising, so I hope that we won't need to add Uttoxeter from the list of courses at which in an ideal world we would prefer not to run.  Apparently these padded hurdles are in use at Newton Abbot, and certainly I have never watched racing from that course with a feeling of unease about the jumps.  It is, though, possible that I haven't watched any racing there since these different hurdles were introduced.  I do not know how long Newton Abbot has had these jumps, and I don't watch much summer jumping.  I keep an eye on the results, but that's usually enough to satisfy my curiosity.

National Hunt racing is, like rugby, so plainly a winter sport that I would say that I find it hard to understand why it has caught on in the summer, except that it is actually very easy to understand why it has gained so firm a foothold during what one thinks of as 'the off season'.  The BHA commendably has made a point of sticking to its policy of not reducing the amount of National Hunt racing in this country.  Making such a reduction would be the easy way out, but it would be wrong: National Hunt racing is so integral a part of the sport in this country that our authorities would be failing in their duty to protect the sport if they allowed one part of it to wither.

However, the problem is that there are only a finite number of afternoon slots for race-meetings during the week.  The establishment of a solid programme of AW Flat meetings through the winter inevitably meant that the number of National Hunt fixtures during the winter had to be drastically reduced: these Flat meetings had to replace National Hunt fixtures, not augument them, otherwise we would have found ourselves with an unsustainable number of meetings each afternoon.  The only way, therefore, that, winter AW racing having become established, the volume of National Hunt racing could be maintained was by putting on a large number of fixtures during the summer.

It's hard to believe that anyone could think that, viewed totally in isolation, summer jumping is a good idea - but, when the only two options are summer jumping or a massive reduction of the National Hunt programme, then it is understandable that summer jumping has gained so much support.  I have run horses over jumps in the summer in the past, and will do so again in the future.  There are some horses for whom summer jumping is preferable to winter jumping, for instance our old friend Ex Con (Extreme Conviction - pictured in the penultimate paragraph in a photograph which I took just under a year ago when I was up at the British Racing School with some visitors from Lexington, and then in the final paragraph on the Heath four years ago being ridden by the 9-year-old Anthony Berry, which I'd forgotten - and the other photographs in this chapter were taken on Saturday, by the way) who couldn't act at all on soft ground and never really thrived during the bad weather.

However, there is only a very small minority of National Hunt horses who fall into that camp, and for most National Hunt horses racing at the hottest and driest part of the year is not ideal.  I don't think that we'll ever see the day when the connections of horses such as Don Cossack, Cue Card, Sprinter Sacre, Many Clouds and Rule The World would be happy to see them rattle round Worcester on firm ground in 30-degree heat in July.  (One might, of course, make a similar mirror-observation about Flat racing in the winter, but that would be missing the point.  Flat racing is traditionally a summer sport, and of course we prefer to race on grass in the summer than on the AW in winter.  But when one does end up racing a horse in the winter - usually either because the horse isn't very good and will be better suited by the less competitive standards, or because he/she has had setbacks during the summer and is only coming right at what one might call the wrong time of year - one isn't actually racing in unsuitable conditions.  Merely unpleasant ones!).

On another matter, the Newmarket Open Weekend is creeping up on us.  I was only thinking the other day that it must be happening some time soon, having heard nothing about it since being contacted in the spring to see whether or not we would be opening.  The answer to that query was, of course, in the affirmative - which means that when a poster was issued today saying that the Open Day is Sunday 18th September, my name was one of those on it.  The disappointment was seeing that there are only 16 stables listed on the poster, which works out at roughly 20% of the trainers in the Newmarket/Exning area.

Epsom held its Open Day on the recent Bank Holiday and, I believe, every trainer in the town opened his/her yard.  They collectively can be very proud of that.  Sadly, the information on this poster suggests that we, Newmarket's training community, cannot be anything like so self-congratulatory.  Still, the pitifully low opening rate might mean more visitors for us, which would be good as it's always a pleasure to find that people are interested enough in our small corner of the world to make the effort to come along to have a look.  Any such people deserve, and will receive, a warm welcome,  on that day or, indeed, any other day they might care to visit.

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