Ralph Beckett: Keeping our tracks [H&H VIP]

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  • You may remember this spring (8 May) that I wrote about Newcastle racecourse’s plan to rip up their turf track, and replace it with an all-weather surface. The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) had given them and Chelmsford City (formerly Great Leighs) permission to apply for all-weather fixtures.

    It was then discovered in August that because Newcastle can only floodlight the straight mile, if the BHA granted them evening fixtures they would be breaking Rule 26.1, which states that at every meeting there must be two races further than one mile, adding up to 2 1⁄2miles. The BHA asked the Horsemen’s Group their opinion, and were given an emphatic thumbs-down to the proposed rule exemption.

    In the meantime, the National Trainers Federation set up an online petition in support of the status quo, which received almost unilateral backing. In fact the only trainer who spoke out in favour of the all-weather was a young National Hunt trainer from Scotland, and his comments indicated that he already trains on the proposed Tapeta surface, and was looking for National Hunt flat races to be run there! To everybody else’s delight the BHA told Newcastle that there would be no exemption of the rule in 2015.

    To the outsider it may appear that this was just a case of the BHA doing their job, and protecting the fabric and diversity that makes racing in this country great. However, when it comes to dealing with the racecourses, we have been let down at almost every hurdle by the regulator.

    So this was a significant moment and the fact that they were prepared to draw a line means that they must also be prepared to follow it up. Which, in many people’s opinion, will mean that sooner or later the BHA and Newcastle’s owners ARC will end up in court.

    As I wrote previously, the tail is wagging the dog. Since then, Warwick have stopped Flat racing, and Towcester have sold seven of their 17 annual fixtures — to enable them to put up a greyhound stadium. Unless the racecourses are stopped we are going to have fewer and fewer turf tracks, racing will become just another gambling product, and eventually go the way of the US, where racing has been dumbed down to such an extent that, except for the big festivals, no one goes to the track.

    British Classics — the greatest test

    There was much debate about the new Irish Champions weekend, and how its clash with Doncaster would affect the St Leger meeting. Apparently more people attended Doncaster than ever before. With luck that will mean the end of the debate, and Ladbrokes will continue with their generous sponsorship of the meeting.

    For me, however established the Irish weekend becomes, winning the St Leger would mean much more than winning their showpieces, the Irish St Leger, and Champions Stakes. Whatever anybody says, and maybe I am being xenophobic here, there are only five Classics.

    Every other country’s Classics are imitation, but it’s more than that. The Classics are set in the calendar for a reason. Winning a guineas means that three-year-old is ready to run for its life on the first weekend in May.

    Winning at Epsom means the horse has to stay the world’s most demanding 12 furlongs on the first weekend in June. The precocity, stamina and brilliance that is required to achieve that, means that the British Classics will always be the greatest test.

    All the Irish Classics are four weeks or more after the originals, so you have more time to get the horse to the conventional track that is The Curragh. Furthermore, the Irish St Leger cannot be termed a Classic because it is open to four-year-olds and up.

    Despite all that, it was easily the highlight of my weekend because it was won by Brown Panther, trained by my good friend and former assistant Tom Dascombe, and ridden brilliantly by Richard Kingscote, who must have ridden more than 40 winners for us in the past seven years.

    Column originally published in Horse & Hound magazine on Thursday 18 September, 2014