With Christmas now firmly packed away in the loft for another 12 months and the Coca-Cola truck back in the garage until the 2018 version of Holidays Are Coming, restarts in about June, we can now focus our attention on the coming months of the sport we all enjoy.
For me, the new year marks the arrival of the main course at the dinner table. I had mixed views on the hors d’oeuvre (or pre-Christmas racing) when it was first introduced back in 2006 and I think looking back it has proven reasonably successful for point-to-pointing.
However, a lot has happened since then — not least a sustained period of economic decline in the late 2000s, leading to the worst global recession since the 1930s — and I cannot help but feel this year’s starter was a bit lumpy and the bread was showing signs of staleness.
Last weekend was officially the eighth weekend since the first meeting was held on 19 November at Bishops Court, but there have only been seven separate racing days in the interim, providing a total of eight meetings.
These meetings have been staged as far south as Wadebridge, to Cottenham in the east and Alnwick in the north. The old journeyman jockey adage of “have saddle, will travel” has applied to some riders and while many would argue that the number of equine entries has been satisfactory, I cannot help but think that there remains scope for improvement in the pre-Christmas schedule.
I know that some trainers deliberately hold off getting their horses ready until January, when there is better continuity in the race programme. This allows for a series of races to be planned for an individual horse within a reasonable geographic area over a suitable time frame (say two- to three-week intervals), rather than a start-stop approach that involves travelling long distances in order to secure a run.
A review required
An example of the victim of the schedule is a horse called The Two Amigos. He won a restricted at Wadebridge on 10 December but short of travelling him from Exmoor to Suffolk (Ampton) on 14 January, there is no intermediate for him to run in until 27 January (Larkhill). This is a gap of seven weeks in a season that is only 31 weeks long.
In this instance, connections were able to secure a new hunters’ certificate from a different hunt so he could run at Wadebridge last weekend (in a confined race, thus allowing him to revert to an intermediate with a penalty). This was a case of necessity rather than desire.
The alternative was to run him in open company, which would have involved jumping several grades in class, or not running at all, although this would mean he lost the fitness benefit of his first run of the season on 10 December.
The race programming committee has made some really positive changes to our sport in recent seasons. A review of the pre-Christmas racing probably now needs adding to the agenda.
Ref Horse & Hound; 11 January 2018