We’re at the crux of the National Hunt season, heading towards the week that for many jumping fans is the highlight of the social and sporting year, and one in which equine champions are made.
In that sense, the Cheltenham Festival is of the utmost importance for trainers, owners, breeders and even stallion masters, but it is important not to overlook the many excellent meetings that build up to it, not to mention a personal favourite, Aintree’s Grand National meeting.
There have been a number of sad losses already to our sport in 2018, and in the death last month of Malcolm Jefferson we lost one of National Hunt racing’s most admired figures. As well as being a first-class trainer, Jefferson also bred and raced some of his own horses and was called up several years ago to judge the TBA’s National Hunt Foal Show.
Despite the fact that it came at the hands of the beloved veteran Cue Card, the victory of Waiting Patiently in the Betfair Ascot Chase has been the most savoured result of the season to date. The north-south divide that exists within jump racing is lamentable and there’s simply no justification for owners not lending greater support to stables in the north of England and Scotland. Waiting Patiently gave Ruth Jefferson her first major victory the day after her father’s funeral and the seven-year-old’s consistency pays compliments to two excellent northern stables, as he started his career and won his first race for the now-retired Keith Reveley.
We may have to wait patiently to see Ruth Jefferson’s star turn out again as the trainer, refreshingly, was in no great rush to get him to Cheltenham. She said at Ascot: “This to us could have been his Cheltenham because we don’t know what ground we’d get and even if we get soft ground we might stop and think about it.
“There are plenty of other races bar Cheltenham. Everyone else is obsessed by Cheltenham. We are not that fussed. We’re not going to risk him for the sake of it – there’s Aintree, or Punchestown, or other places we can go.”
If he does make it to Prestbury Park this month, a Ryanair Chase victory for Waiting Patiently would certainly be a popular result, and would add to a Jefferson family roll of honour at the Festival which includes Dato Star, Cape Tribulation and Attaglance. The last two named are particularly noteworthy for having completed an extraordinary ‘double-double’ in 2012 when Cape Tribulation won the Pertemps Final at Cheltenham followed by the Grade 3 Silver Cross Hurdle at Aintree and Attaglance landed a handicap hurdle at each Festival.
National Hunt breeding advances
Attaglance’s sire Passing Glance was one of 16 National Hunt stallions on parade at Doncaster earlier in the year at the TBA’s Stallion Showcase. This event, along with the aforementioned foal show and initiatives such as the Mare Owners’ Prize Scheme (MOPS) and the Elite Mares’ Scheme, is just one of the many ways in which the TBA’s National Hunt Committee has worked in recent years to improve the lot of the National Hunt breeder and to try to encourage more to join the fold.
As highlighted in our feature which starts on page 58, Britain is still a long way behind Ireland and France numerically but there are signs that the quality is improving – and, in a wider industry which could well be teetering on the brink of overproduction again, that’s no bad thing.
To this mind, the biggest problem within the jump breeding world in recent times has been the woeful lack of interest in fillies. From a welfare perspective alone we simply can’t have a situation where roughly half the population we produce is all but unwanted. Of course as broodmares we desperately need those fillies in order for the breeding programme to survive, and we must aim to breed from the best we can. Pedigree is undoubtedly important but we need to keep testing these fillies and mares on the track before sending them to stud, in order to refresh bloodlines and to ensure that we continue to breed from sound stock.
Efforts on both sides of the Irish Sea have led to an improvement in this situation, certainly in regard to slowly improving figures and clearance rates for National Hunt filly foals at the sales, as Carl Evans points out in Sales Circuit (pages 68 to 78).
The ageless Evans also took to the saddle this month to ride several lots at both Colin Bowe’s and Tom Lacey’s stables as he quizzed them over what they look for when pinhooking store horses to train for point-to-points and sell on (pages 52 to 56).
There’s no doubt that many of the successful pinhookers in this sphere still prefer a big strapping gelding to a filly but, as proud Irishman Peter Molony pointed out, after admitting he’d be in big trouble for praising a British initiative, MOPS, still in its infancy, is already proving to be a big success and a lure for pinhookers or trainers to buy a filly. It’s a giant step in the right direction.