What will 2011 hold for horseracing in Britain? Our columnist can foresee surprises at the sales, a big-name retirement and an upset in the Derby…
Racing rejoices when Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State at the DCMS, implements the Levy Board’s recommendations in settlement of the 50th scheme. Betting shops retaliate by refusing to bet on anything other than virtual racing and Irish lottery numbers. “Punters have no interest in British racing anyway,” a layer explains.
The big freeze sees dozens of Britain’s best jumpers flee to Pau for prep races ahead of Cheltenham. The raid is a huge success but a crisis develops when many stay on to compete for better prize-money. Nicky Henderson points out another benefit. “I don’t have to take calls from journalists every day asking why my horses are drifting on Betfair,” he says.
A depleted Cheltenham Festival sees Sam Twiston-Davies win every race. All the winners are trained by his father, Nigel, who says: “Whatever you all may think, Paddy Brennan is my stable jockey.” Zenyatta makes a(nother) shock reappearance to win the Dubai World Cup under a jubilant Mike Smith, who exclaims: “There was no Blame attached to me this time.”
Tony McCoy repeats his Grand National victory aboard Don’t Push It and promptly announces his retirement. “Now is the right time,” the champion says. “I feel I could ride another 5,000 winners but I just can’t face another round of lobbying for me to win Sports Personality of the Year.” After winning the Greenham by 20 lengths, Frankel follows up in the 2,000 Guineas despite a rule change obliging him to run backwards. “He did it well,” says Henry Cecil, “but I thought he ran a bit too free.” Declining a Derby follow-up, he adds: “I have said before that the female line is dominant and Jane says we shouldn’t run.”
White Moonstone wins the 1,000 Guineas by 28 lengths in a thunderstorm. Frankie Dettori slips on performing a flying dismount and breaks his ankle. “What a plonker!” says Saeed Bin Suroor.
There’s Epsom uproar as the Derby hero defies the thoroughbred colour chart. Closer inspection brings red faces to representatives of the sponsors Investec, who loosed a live version of their logo at the off. “We knew our zebra was fast but we didn’t think he could outrun the horses,” one says. Moves are afoot to match the zebra with Frankel.
Traditionalists are outraged when ‘house full’ signs go up 24 hours before the King George at Ascot. The infield is ablaze with barbecues as crowds gather ahead of a post-race concert featuring Ozzy Osborne’s long-lost daughter and Suck It, a boy band that just fails to make the final audition for X Factor. Chief Executive Charles Barnett is unrepentant. “Ascot rocks,” he says, “and we have to move with the times.”
Intrigue surrounding the sale of Sea The Stars turns to astonishment when a spokesman welcomes the horse to Coolmore’s jump division. “We know he’s good because we couldn’t beat him on the track,” the spokesman explains. “He should fill quickly – JP has already promised us the dam of Binocular.”
Breeders are speechless when zebras make up more than half the catalogue for the next month’s Book 1 Yearling Sale. Coolmore strikes again when it wins the battle to stand the Derby winner at stud. “He will make a perfect outcross for Northern Dancer-line mares,” a spokesman ventures.
Coolmore provokes the wrath of Racing For Change by retiring the zebra only days before Champions’ Day at Ascot. “It’s a missed opportunity,” an official says. “We have brought over four others from South America that we thought would give him a race. I suppose we’ll have to make do with Frankel instead.”
A chastened Henderson returns from the south of France to resume at Seven Barrows. “Every time I brought through a young horse, the Aga Khan would pinch it to run on the Flat,” he laments. “And the food in France is overrated – you can’t beat The Pheasant for lunch.”
Connections of Kauto Star are taken aback when Goldikova is among the final entries for the King George, but the French mare is withdrawn on Freddie Head’s arrival in England. “We got a shock when we walked the course,” the trainer relates. “With all the changes happening to the British racing programme we thought the race had been moved from Ascot to Kempton. She would jump the fences fine but the ground is too soft.”