The Cheltenham Festival is the pinnacle of our sport in Britain and the racing on Saturday, 26 January, during the Festival Trials Day certainly whet the appetite. The meeting on paper actually looked a bit thin on quality, but the results it produced sent everyone home happy, with a warm glow.
Saturday was a day for the ladies and we witnessed two great wins from lady jockeys and a brilliant one from a female trainer. I am not a trainer known to use a lady jockey that often, although I did ask if Bryony Frost was available for one of mine last season.
These ladies have surpassed all expectations of what trainers used to think, and please don’t think I’m being sexist. Watching Lizzie Kelly and Bryony ride two fabulous races aboard Siruh Du Lac and Frodon showed us all how bloody good they are. Both riders got the best out of their mounts, while looking stylish and composed.
Lady jockeys really have made it to the “big time” this season. Ireland has one of the best in Rachael Blackmore, who has surpassed all records and is currently lying in second in their jockeys’ championship.
I have known Frodon’s owners, Paul and Ruth Vogt, since my days working for Fred Rimell and his win was very much deserved — they have shown great longevity and support for our sport.
Emma Lavelle has had a stellar season and her recent winner, Paisley Park, will go to the Festival with great public sentiment behind him, because his owner, Andrew Gemmell, has been blind since birth. His emotion on TV when his horse won was a joy to behold.
Andrew developed a love of the sport while listening to racing commentary on the radio as a schoolboy. And he gave up his tickets to the Australian Open tennis final to be at Cheltenham on Saturday, which is great spirit.
The Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained Go Conquer showed his spirit at Doncaster on Saturday when bolting up in the Sky Bet Chase, under a good ride from young Tom Bellamy. This progressive chaser now heads to Aintree where he’ll have a great chance of going one better for owners Paul and Clare Rooney.
Will it be goodbye to stall handlers?
Racing is quietly going very “PC”, which I am not sure is doing the sport any good. Watering racecourses in January to me seems daft — why can’t we leave courses alone during the winter months?
I think that a horse who loves good, or fast ground, should have the chance to prove himself when conditions suit. My 1990 Grand National winner, Mr Frisk, might not have won that race now, because he needed fast ground to produce his best. However, you wouldn’t get fast ground at Aintree nowadays.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has moments when they don’t do the sport much justice. A recent example was fining trainer Henry Oliver £140 for waving his arms behind his horse to encourage it to start a race.
As a trainer, you are allowed to lead them in at the start, then you have the assistant starter cracking a whip behind the field, so what is the problem with waving arms? The BHA said: “Trainers are not permitted to encourage their horses to start.” Will it be goodbye to stall handlers one day, too?
Ref Horse & Hound; 31 January 2019