The good and the bad bits
THE GOOD: The highlight of the year should be the best race of the year and A Plus Tard sprinting clear from the last to give Rachael Blackmore the Gold Cup she missed out on last season, to add to the Champion Hurdle, was a moment to savour.
Lightning doesn’t strike twice, they say. Ruby Walsh, in all his career wins, only had one Gold Cup horse in Kauto Star. Having missed out when not choosing Minella Indo the previous year, the chance of adding a Gold Cup to a Champion Hurdle could well have passed.
Virtually every newspaper on the Saturday carried a photo of Blackmore and A Plus Tard. Headlines everywhere - Black Gold, Golden Girl, Black Magic, Queen of the Cotswolds, Golden Moment. Yes, you need the horses but, in the context to a jockey’s career - and Blackmore’s has been short compared to many - to have combined with Henry de Bromhead for a Champion Hurdle, Grand National and Gold Cup in two years is monumental.
THE BAD: No matter which ‘side’ you took or even for neutrals, the whole investigation into the accusations of bullying by jockey Robbie Dunne to Bryony Frost was very much a low point of the year. It reflected poorly on the sport and many professionals within it.
The appeal board’s decision reduce the sentence and the arguments it based it on, that basically once the public did not hear the worst of the abuse, was even more bizarre. Frost has been a huge asset to racing and you would hope she comes back fighting next season.
THE GOOD: The Shishkin versus Energumene race at Ascot in January lived up to all the pre-race hype and lit up a bleak month. So used are we to not seeing the best horses take each other on before Cheltenham that it came as a shock when both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson gave the go-ahead. And what a race it was. Tingle Creek, please!
THE BAD: Quite a few point-to-points were cancelled last autumn due to lack of insurance. A few more lost out in the spring before a (very expensive) solution was found. However, this problem has not gone away and there is more work to be done this summer or hunt clubs will be forced to walk away from the sport.
THE GOOD: Gordon Elliott’s comeback and quick re-
emergence as the biggest threat to Willie Mullins in the trainers’ championship. No one knew how long it would take Elliott to recover, but the answer is not long at all. Elliott made a significant mistake last year but he more than paid for it, acknowledged his wrongdoing and has come back from the brink. His story and quest to become champion trainer has become all the more intriguing as a result. He came from nothing, built an empire, conceivably could have lost it all, but now is back on track.
THE BAD: The acceleration of the five-day Cheltenham Festival proposition. Greed, greed and more effing greed was a line from a much watched YouTube video of a vox-pop interview with an Irishman living in America who was asked about the banking crisis at home. The same short statement is so applicable to the Jockey Club’s seemingly relentless pursuit for a five-day festival. The National Hunt programme (and in turn the whole sector) is rotting slowly but surely through a severe lack of competition in the big races, particularly in Britain. The Festival is meant to be the beacon but it’s already been significantly worsened by the introduction of new races to fatten out the programme. There was seven runners in the National Hunt chase, only four in the Marsh. Odds-on favourites are now the norm. More races equals a dilution in quality and more options for the rich to get richer. We need to push back against this in a big way.