Saturday, 15 March 2014

Over-dominant Trainers and Cheltenham’s Many Frustrations

Although this blog has gone up the day after the Festival, it has actually been written on the eve of it. I know from past experience that there is no chance whatsoever of finding any time to do a blog while the racing is on, and by the weekend a combination of exhaustion and alcohol has completely numbed the brain. I can’t see any reason why this year would have been any different.

But what a great day prior to the start – reintroduced the pre-Festival round of golf at Naunton; off to the bucolic Plough at Ford for more than a few pints of Donningtons best bitter and a Festival preview evening, chaired by the estimable Stuart Machin; and all spare minutes totally immersed in the various race trends and preview evening reports.

And it is a foregone conclusion that the racing itself will have been immensely pleasurable.

So it is probably only a curmudgeon who wants to grumble about the whole Cheltenham Festival experience. This year it started with the extremely irritating charges for owners’ badges. Our Shantou Magic was scheduled to run in the Martin Pipe on Friday. All the owners and some family members were going. All of us are members at Cheltenham, and yet they saw fit to charge us £75 for each extra paddock badge, just so that we could all go in to support our horse. You gain nothing else really for your £75. There is a tatty old marquee to go to, but you have to pay for any food and drink on top. This is just yet another Cheltenham rip-off. In the last blog I berated the early closer system. We had Shantou Magic in the Coral Cup (cost £126) and obviously also in the Martin Pipe (£86). While this doesn’t sound a lot, if you multiply everything by several thousand to reflect the huge entries, it is considerable money.

I was also trying to organise meetings with friends and co-owners throughout the four days. The problem is that there are so few suitable bars to go to, and with up to 75,000 people there each day it is just about impossible to have a relaxed and convivial drink. This is in such contrast to Aintree, which would win the hospitality stakes in a hack canter, compared to Cheltenham. Hopefully when the new stand is completed, all this will change. The risk, though, is that the exploitative mind-set of Cheltenham doesn’t change, even if the infrastructure is improved. They keep sending me customer satisfaction surveys, which I always dutifully fill in. However I have seen very little improvement so far. Maybe it will have changed this year, but I doubt it.

Finally, another niggle going into the meeting was the whole issue of watering the course. I have a real concern anyway about the over-dominance of Messrs. Mullins, Nicholls and Henderson, which I just don’t think is good for the sport. So it was irksome to see two of that ilk publicly lobbying for the course not to be watered. They wanted “nature to take its course”. In this day and age, that is a totally impossible and naïve stance to adopt. Maybe it had more to do with the need for Big Buck’s, Bobs Worth and Triolo d’Alene to have good ground. Earlier in the season there were similar selfish views expounded over the framing of novice chases. I don’t have a lot of sympathy, just because they have yards chock-full of talent and want to keep them apart.

Right, that’s the curmudgeonly thoughts for this Festival out of the way. Let’s hope the racing has been superb, the hangovers manageable and the wins, huge! On now to Aintree and Punchestown.

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  1. In the light of Our Conor losing his life amongst others including Don McCain's horse at Carlisle Sunday. I think it's about time the racecourses all went over to brush hurdles, stuff tradition and let's look after the our horses.