Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Decline and fall

We'll have our fourth runner of the year tomorrow, The Rocket Park at Ludlow.  He might find things tough in these winter conditions, but we keep hearing that Ludlow is the place to go (along with Doncaster) if one wants to find ground that isn't too soft.  We'll see.  Very often ground isn't very nice shortly after frost coming out of it, but he schooled yesterday up at the Links (two photographs of the session illustrate this chapter, along with four taken during last week's short cold snap) and that was lovely ground, having been frozen and covered in snow a few days previously.  So that was encouraging.

What else has been happening?  The decline and fall of Darren Weir's empire has arguably been the biggest topic in the racing world over the past week, but that's such a big topic that I don't have the energy to broach it now.  Tomorrow will be a long day so I don't want to take too much time this evening writing this.  Another big topic appears to be the likelihood of Darley/Godolphin reducing significantly the extent of its sponsorship programme.  That's big news too, and bad news for the sport.  Mind you, we could have seen it coming bearing in mind that Emirates Airline ceased to sponsor the Melbourne Cup last year.

What this does remind us is how totally the Championship Series, culminating in the creation of QIPCO British Champions' Stakes Day at Ascot, has failed to meet its objective, that objective, of course, having been to raise the profile of British racing to the extent that it could start to attract sponsorship from large commercial enterprises beyond the 'insider' (ie bookmakers, studs and companies run by racing enthusiasts) sponsorship on which we have been leaning so heavily.

Part one of the plan was to find a non-insider commercial sponsor for the series, on the basis that the series was going to appeal to a wider audience just as Wimbledon, Six Nations Rugby, Premiership Soccer and Golf Majors all do.  That failed.  And part two was that, the series having opened the eyes of a wider audience to the sport's delights (which hasn't happened), we would then be able to attract similar commercial sponsorships for other major races.  And that has failed too.  And now, to rub salt into the wound, we appear to be seeing a major scaling-back by one our most significant insider sponsors.  Worrying indeed.

What is good, on the subject of sponsorship, is that, I am pleased to see, Fred Winter's name will still appear in the title of the four-year-olds' handicap hurdle at the National Hunt Meeting, the race now being called the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Class 1) (Registered as the Fred Winter) (Grade 3).  When it was mooted last year that Cheltenham seemed keen to excise Fred Winter's name from the title of this race and to use Boodles as an excuse for this piece of iconoclasm, I was one of many who did not think that this was a step in the right direction. 

Anyway, it's good that the race will still be the Boodles Fred Winter Hurdle.  Boodles are a prestigious and highly respected firm of jewellers, and I knew that they would resist Cheltenham's attempts to blame them for the racecourse's on-going plan to excise the game's heroes from its history books.  From a racing point of view, when one hears 'Boodles', one straightaway thinks 'the Boodles Ormonde Stakes' - and that brings to mind more plentiful classy subconscious associations than merely 'the Boodles Stakes' could do, because when one thinks of Ormonde, one thinks of a reputation for excellence which has stood the test of time.  So it is with Fred Winter.  Anyone would be proud to have their name alongside his in the title of the race at a major race-meeting.

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