The National Hunt season has begun and is about to get very exciting. That’s been the hope for the past few weeks, anyway, but trainers have had the most frustrating autumn as there has been a huge shortage of rain.
Rain means better and safer ground for our winter horses to run on. Yes, we are in desperate need of it to kick off the season properly.
There was a brief glimpse of what was to come at Chepstow a couple of weeks ago, when the rain fell and there was some good jump racing. But since then, there has been hardly any, so trainers have been holding back running their horses.
Cheltenham and Aintree watered heavily to produce safe ground and were rewarded with some cracking racing last weekend.
Although we did not have a runner at our local course, on Saturday, 27 October, we did win the feature race at Kelso with Dandy Dan. This progressive five-year-old son of Midnight Legend is doing well over fences and he also broke their track record to boot.
It has been a difficult summer for most trainers, as the ground has been very fast. But that has not stopped Dan Sketon reaching 100 winners in a faster time than Martin Pipe — an extraordinary feat.
The dry summer and autumn has stretched some racecourse clerks with their ground descriptions. I know it is not an easy job — I was once clerk of our local point-to-point course — but honesty makes a huge difference.
Putting the words “good to firm” in the going description might mean less runners, but it saves a great deal of hassle with both trainers and owners.
The horses’ welfare must come first, not the racecourses’ pockets.
Looking ahead, I cannot wait to see one of my favourite horses, the Nicky Henderson-trained Altior, back in action.
He is a horse I have followed for some time and perhaps more so than most, as we had a chance of breaking his unbeaten chase record at Cheltenham two seasons ago, when our Charbel fell while travelling so well in the Arkle Chase.
My hope is that we meet again somewhere this season and try to put the record straight. Charbel won a good handicap two weeks ago at Chepstow carrying top weight; it was only his second win over fences and the first over a longer trip. I believe he will improve again for slightly further.
Horses have problems, as we all do, but Charbel was found to be suffering with several kissing spines after his fall at Cheltenham in March. A back operation since seems to have helped enormously. Also, the assistance of event riders Simon Lawrance and Lucy Jackson has helped bring a smile back onto this lovely horse’s face.
Staffing problems in racing have been well documented. We need to find ways of helping staff and I feel that all racecourses should offer free food to stable staff on racedays. Without these lads and lasses, where would we be?
Owners are now looked after better than ever before at racecourses, and stable staff should be, too. Please, all racecourses take note and follow the example set by those venues which offer free food — it would show appreciation.
Ref Horse & Hound; 1 November 2018