Think back, if you can, to the beginning of the year. Nic Coward is at the helm of the British Horseracing Authority. Betfair is a UK-based company. Jockeys use the whip without needing a degree in maths. And a three-year-old colt called Frankel is unbeaten.
Fast forward to the present and only one of those sentences remains correct. No prizes for guessing which one, either.
Frankel may not be the saviour of this sport – the financial mess that our ‘leaders in racing’ have presided over is something that 100 Frankels could not remedy – but he has certainly been the shining light in 2011.
The inaugural Champions’ Day provided Khalid Abdullah’s star with the ideal stage to showcase his talents to a wider audience and the son of Galileo did not disappoint, delighting a crowd of almost 27,000 with a performance that oozed star quality.
Hype surrounding Frankel has, inevitably, increased with every successful racecourse appearance. His connections, particularly trainer Sir Henry Cecil and jockey Tom Queally, must have felt enormous pressure during the course of the year and they deserve huge credit for the way they have handled his career.
If David Pipe feels the pressure of following in the footsteps of the most successful British jumps trainer of all time, then it doesn’t show.
Having replaced father Martin as the master of Pond House in 2006, Pipe has enjoyed plenty of big-race success in his short career, but he has also had to contend with the effects of the recession, including losing owners and horses, and ever-shrinking race purses, the result of a declining levy.
It’s a situation that has forced him to adopt a different attitude to his profession. “In this climate you have to do what is best for the owner, and if that means finishing second at Ascot rather than going to win at a smaller track, so be it,” he says.
“Of course I want more winners – that’s what this game is all about – but the focus is on getting the best out of the horses you have.
“Owners don’t expect to make money from their racehorses, but they’d like to get something back. Now, unless you have Saturday horses, you’re not really getting much back, if anything.”
Pipe’s point here is pivotal. Racehorse ownership has never been seen as a way of improving the bank balance – to suggest otherwise is plainly foolish.
However, if the price of participation becomes too great – and this can be measured by the cost of keep and training against the likely minimum return – then the fact is that people will stop becoming owners.
Put it this way – you wouldn’t go to the cinema to get value for money. It’s a leisure pursuit, one that provides entertainment. But if the cinemas started charging £50 a ticket, you’d stop going. It’s as simple as that.
• This month’s press deadline precludes me from commenting on the review being undertaken by the British Horseracing Authority following the introduction of new rules regarding use of the whip.
Since the October issue went to press, we’ve seen a huge backlash against the regulations that limit the amount of times Flat and jump jockeys can hit their mounts, with particular venom directed towards the final furlong/after the last fence rule.
Why the BHA decided to make the change towards the end of the Flat season, so close to the inaugural British Champions’ Day, and without a trial period is anyone’s guess. The lack of a permanent Chief Executive to direct day-to-day operations may be one explanation.
It can only be hoped that by the time you read this, common sense will have prevailed and the rules will have been amended to the satisfaction of all the parties involved.