We have no runners today but two tomorrow night at Chelmsford City. Hold Firm runs in the first at 5.45. He is a course and distance winner and with Gabriele Malune claiming the 5lb’s he should not be too far away again. He is a brilliant horse for this type of race and is always doing his best and is very consistent. We then have a long wait as typically, with the race splitting, we get the late division. Mr Turner runs in the 9.15 the mile and a quarter handicap. This is certainly not a very good race, he has no weight and if they go fast enough and he settles, he must have a chance of getting at least placed in this.
A couple of trainers are retiring due to financial problems, one in England and one in Ireland, and both quite high profile people with plenty of talent. It certainly points out how financially upside down this sport is and there must be so many more in a similar position. We seem to be getting very elitist and top heavy on both the flat and National Hunt. The big yards have 200 horses plus and monopolise the top owners. What can be done about this situation I am not sure, but the gloss and the interest will go out of the game if something is not done soon to alter this. A big increase in prize money at the lower and middle range is a must, as we don’t want to lose trainers with talent and we want to encourage new people and the young into the industry.
Phil on Friday
Racing began at Cheltenham’s Prestbury Park in 1831 and it came about, in a way, through the efforts of a parish priest who was fiercely opposed to the sport …
Previously, races had been run on Cleeve Hill, now the backdrop to the annual National Hunt Festival extravaganza, but the Rev Francis Close preached so much about the evils of racing that his congregation disrupted a meeting there and, the following year, the grandstand was burned to the ground. So the racecourse was moved to its present location.
The Rev Close was quoted as describing a Cheltenham meeting this way: “It is scarcely possible to turn our steps in any direction without hearing the voice of the blasphemous, or meeting the reeling drunkard, or witnessing scenes of the lowest profligacy.” I hope that doesn’t ring too many bells!
Next week upwards of a quarter of a million people will make the annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park. Again, it will provide the best few days of jump racing to be had anywhere in the world.
This will be the second festival since the completion in 2015 of a £45 million redevelopment at the course, and how different it all is now to when my father took me on my first visit there. Swallowed up by the multitudes, I think I was able to see only one horse all day, the rest being obscured by other, taller racegoers.
Celebrated journalist and inveterate drinker Jeffrey Bernard, famed for his weekly ‘Low Life’ column in The Spectator, summed up the crowded chaos of the seventies thus: “I find it fairly sickening to reflect that one has to be a rugby player of almost international standard to get to the bars”.
Not all developments at Cheltenham over the years have been so successful as the recent outstanding project. After a new stand was completed in 1979 the late Sir Peter O’Sullevan commented that it was “surely an improvement, but if you have binoculars capable of seeing through concrete pillars you’re advised to bring them”.
There was a suggestion at one point that a flat course could be built at Cheltenham. “Never”, said Lord Willoughby de Broke. “It’s an appalling thought”. (In fact, races on Cleeve Hill, then later in the early years at Prestbury Park, were run on the flat. Steeplechasing came later).
Whatever they all had to say we’re certainly in for another real treat at Cheltenham next week - good luck!