Graham Fletcher: It’s all white flags and surrender *H&H Plus*


  • H&H’s showjumping columnist questions his optimism and the FEI rankings system

    I applaud those who have campaigned for the FEI to reconsider their decision about whether the Europeans will go ahead next year – because only an eternal optimist still thinks the Tokyo Olympics have any chance of being held in 2021.

    Meanwhile in this country, some county shows due to run next summer are already cancelling. Surrender seems to be the common tactic; maybe it’s because this ponderous Government is stimulating no confidence whatsoever.

    In fact, it was only recently, while watching a television programme about the Battle of Britain, that I realised what a snowflake country we’ve become.

    For Churchill to inspire a nation – and those young pilots (with an average age of 20) to defeat the might of the battle-hardened Luftwaffe who’d easily beat all their previous opposition and who outnumbered us by four to one – was both heroic and incredible.

    Compare that with today’s carry on and there would be a waving of white flags at the first roar of enemy plane engines.

    Being a natural optimist, I prefer the prediction from Bill Gates, a man I totally admire. Thanks to all the investment and top scientists on the case, he expects there to be a vaccine by the spring.

    Let’s hope he’s right. Maybe then even some of our politicians will think it’s safe to step out of the bunker.

    Time for review

    It’s always been a tough career choice for any young rider with aspirations to compete at the best shows in the world. But it’s now become more competitive than ever. And with the FEI computer list being the all-decisive factor, lately there has been much said about the unfairness of some trying to buy their way into the better shows.

    While I hope the “super league” shows continue to select their entrants on merit – and that Simon Brooks-Ward upholds that great tradition started by his father Raymond that only the best qualify for Olympia – it may be time to review the FEI rankings system.

    I know it’s here to stay; but that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.

    What’s changed between today and a few years ago is that there’s now such a gulf between the two-star shows and the four- and five-star shows.

    This isn’t so much in terms of prize money, which is unbelievable and that’s great, but the fact that at four- and five-star shows, nearly every class is a ranking class.

    So anybody that’s already in the top 40 ranked riders obviously gets the pick of the best shows, and as many as they like, because that’s how the computer system works.

    On the flip side, it’s become increasingly hard for riders to get the results from two-star shows they need to break into top 40.

    It would be interesting to compare a list of the top 40 riders from five years ago with the top 40 of today. I expect there would be very little difference to what has become a stronghold at the top of the pyramid. While the best will always be the best, the system should also be a bit more flexible and entrepreneurial.

    To make a hypothetical argument, imagine that just before the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the favourite was bought by another owner/trainer who wanted to give his just-turned professional jockey a shot at winning the big race.

    The move would become not just the sensational story of the day, but the one of the Festival thanks to all the media attention that would surround it.

    In our sport, Ben Maher did a great job of securing the ride on Explosion W last year. But let’s imagine somebody else bought the horse for a top British young rider, and it was just before Olympia. There would be no media interest, and the rider and connections would be able to compete in as many two-star grands prix as possible. And at 1.45m compared with 1.50m or 1.60m at five-star, these classes are always fast and competitive.

    Then, in a year’s time, if this exciting new combination are not burnt out, they just might just get sufficient points to compete at Olympia. Can that be right?

    Ref Horse & Hound; 1 October 2020