Horseracing’s ability to bring people together, from all walks of life, social strata and even continents, was underlined at December’s ROA Awards. Lords, ladies, farmers and farriers – they were all there, under one huge roof, celebrating a year quite unlike any other we’ve ever witnessed in this sport.
Predictably, the beast beginning with F cleaned up in the Horse of the Year, miler and middle distance categories, with owner Khalid Abdullah claiming his own accolade having produced a thoroughbred that represents the pinnacle of 30 years’ investment in racing and breeding.
Abdullah could not be there in person to celebrate his champion, and neither, sadly, could trainer Sir Henry Cecil, although his wife Lady Jane did attend – along with the rest of the team, including farrier Stephen Kielt, who supported Frankel through his wonderful racing career.
One award-winning owner present was Anthony Knott, whose progressive Hunt Ball took the special achievement trophy having improved about 20st over the course of last season.
If Hunt Ball is a joy to watch, so is Knott – this is a man who once jumped on his horse’s back returning to the winner’s enclosure – and his speech portrayed the excitement that racehorses can bring to dairy farmers from Dorset. Reserved is not a word that features in Knott’s dictionary and racing is all the richer with owners like him in its ranks.
Australian legend Black Caviar, who provided – with a little bit of help from the man on her back – the most dramatic victory of the year, at Royal Ascot, added a truly international dimension to proceedings with victory in the sprinter section.
The remarkable Kauto Star, recently retired and now set for a second career as a dressage horse – incidentally, do watch our for Lionel Messi’s upcoming appearance for Bognor Regis FC – claimed top chaser status. The pretender to his throne, in terms of brilliance if not distance, is Sprinter Sacre, outstanding novice chaser of the past season and this month’s cover star following an effortless romp around Sandown in the Tingle Creek Chase.
How good Sprinter Sacre will become is open to question but there appears to be a groundswell of opinion that he is already one of the “greats”. Can this be right? Hopefully in time he’ll prove himself so but as things stand, with just a single full season over fences behind him, he cannot be likened to the Kautos of this world.
One thing is certain; if Sprinter Sacre does one day ascend to the level of legends we won’t need anyone to tell us. He’ll announce it himself, on the racecourse.
The novice chaser Harry Topper is some way off legendary status but he is an exciting young horse and the best currently in the care of Kim Bailey, a man who knows a thing or two about top-class jumpers.
Bailey has been at both ends of racing’s snakes and ladders spectrum, reaching the heights of Gold Cup, Champion Hurdle and Grand National glory before sliding into the abyss following a wretched run of bad luck.
Alan Lee finds out how the Gloucestershire handler has managed to pull himself back from the brink, despite some people advising him to give the game up.
Bailey has already warned that Harry Topper won’t be heading to the Cheltenham Festival this time but the Channel 4 cameras will be there, as they will throughout 2013, having won the rights to show all terrestrial racing for the next four years.
Channel 4 has announced that the big race each Saturday (outside of winter and not including ‘crown jewels’ such as the Grand National and Derby) will be run at 3.50pm, so as to avoid clashing with football – the race will happen during half-time. It has also said the new-look racing programme will run from 1.45pm until 4.15pm.
Can anyone else see a potential problem with this scheduling?
I’ve mentioned previously that any delays could cause major problems for live racing coverage on 4 and there must be a concern that such timing doesn’t leave much room for manoeuvre.
We certainly don’t want a ten-minute delay to the 2,000 Guineas on May 4; the (Countdown) clock will be ticking.