This '˜dilution of quality' theory is a non-runner at the Cheltenham Festival
The older I get, the more of a grumpy snob I am when confronted by the daft trivialities of life.
In racing, I can be heard shouting at, or seen throwing things at, the telly just because presenters, pundits and commentators can’t pronounce the names of horses correctly. Particularly French names and particularly the simplest of French words. Thus UN DE SCEAUX becomes Une De Sko, LE REVE becomes Lay Reve, LA VATICANE is turned into Le Vaticane, SOUTHFIELD ROYALE becomes Southfield Royal and, worst of all, the ingeniously named COEUR BLIMEY (by Winged Love out of Eastender) is reduced to Cor Blimey.
Of course, the faux pas are not as bad as the one made by a well-known commentator when Coeur Blimey won a Bumper at Ascot in December as he told viewers moments after the off that the runners were “making their way down to the first flight”.
And of course, I accept that we all make mistakes and misjudgements from time to time. Even the best of jockeys, as we saw at the Cheltenham Festival, courtesy of Ruby Walsh on FOOTPAD, Barry Geraghty on YANWORTH and Davy Russell on FIRST FIGAR0. And even journalists, as we saw in last week’s ‘Racing Post Weekender’ with a headline that hardly helped the plight of Sam Waley-Cohen, banned for not riding out the legendary LONG RUN at Carlisle. ‘Waley-Cohen’s Kelso Ban Is Madness’. it read.
However, I would have thought that getting a horse’s name is right is a basic requirement of TV speak. Getting it wrong is the equivalent of print journos spelling names incorrectly, for which we would be hauled over the coals by bosses and readers alike -- and quite rightly so.
I am not asking presenters to speak fluent French. But in an era when so many French-breds are imported to this country, a crash course in the fundamentals would surely not go amiss. Vous ne pensez pas?
Extracting more serious grumpiness from me during this frustrating period of twiddling thumbs as we await Aintree is the trendy train of thought that seems to have blighted the obligatory inquest into the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. Namely the theory of dilution of quality.
The theory goes something like this -- there are now too many races at the Festival, therefore too many options for the best horses, which means they never take each other on. It is undiluted tommyrot.
It beggars belief how anyone can complain about the quality that oozed from every orifice of Prestbury Park, especially after another rancid winter of Jumps racing blighted by small, uncompetitive fields on bottomless ground. In comparison to the offerings of January and February, Cheltenham was a breath of fresh air.
Culling the current schedule would force horses to tackle unsuitable trips in races they have no chance of winning, or to bypass the Festival completely. One of the most uncomfortable sights of the week was LIL ROCKERFELLER, an admirable trier with a touch of class, being scrubbed along for most of the Champion Hurdle, palpably out of his comfort zone. All because there is no championship race over the 2m4f trip, which is his optimum.
Thankfully, over fences, this option exists via the Ryanair Chase, which has matured into one of the highlights of the meeting. Indeed its roll of honour reads like a who’s who of jumping stars, thanks to the likes of IMPERIAL COMMANDER, OUR VIC, ALBERTAS RUN, CUE CARD and DYNASTE. It also yielded one of the greatest rides the Festival has seen when Geraghty somehow carried RIVERSIDE THEATRE home in 2012. Betting figures suggest it is a popular race with punters, and its winners consistently produce Racing Post Ratings on a par with both the Champion Hurdle and World Hurdle.
Yet the Ryanair continues to be pooh-poohed by the ‘dilution of quality’ critics on the basis that it robs both the Queen Mother Champion Chase and Gold Cup of contenders, thus weakening the two events. I would argue that without the Ryanair, the whole Festival would have been weakened this year because it might have robbed us of another spectacular victory by VAUTOUR, who could well have stayed at home without the 2m4f option. In short, the Jumps game is littered with animals who perform best over the intermediate distance. They should not be denied the Festival limelight they deserve.
The moaners might have been better advised to direct their ire at more pressing issues that arose from this year’s Cotswolds jamboree. Like why there are no owners, exclusive to the UK, to match the formidable quartet of Ricci, JP McManus, Gigginstown and Graham Wylie. Like why champion jockey-elect Richard Johnson, feted in the same breath as Sir Tony McCoy in some quarters, endured such a deplorable meeting (not a sniff of a winner from 18 rides). Like why there were more queues than trains at Cheltenham station for punters after racing each day. And, most pertinently of all, why the week was marred by seven equine fatalities.
The death toll did not discriminate, claiming the lives of proven Grade One performers in NO MORE HEROES, LONG DOG and PONT ALEXANDRE, as well as a likeable stalwart in THE GOVANESS, who came to grief in one of the most sickening falls I have seen. With the spectre of more potential danger at Aintree looming on the horizon, the BHA and the RSPCA deserve all the support they can muster in their inquiry into the tragic losses.
Johnston juveniles look the real deal
With the new Flat Turf season set to start in earnest at Doncaster, all eyes were focused on the Dubai World Cup at Meydan and the All-Weather Championhip finals at Lingfield over the Easter weekend.
However, they might have been better trained on a couple of early two-year-old fillies, trained by Mark Johnston, that set alight a Polytrack meeting at Kempton. Both BOATER and CHUPALLA are powerfully-built daughters of the first-season sire, Helmet, a Group One winner in Australia. And both had clock-watchers salivating at the mouth with the startling way they sprang from the gates and spreadeagled a couple of 5f fields. While I do not pretend to know what might win the Lincoln at Donny, I am certain that we will be hearing a lot more of these two juveniles as the season progresses.