Mixed reaction to racing blueprint

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  • The blueprint put forward by Racecourse Holdings Trust (RHT) last week to save national hunt racing from the threat of all-weather racing has stimulated serious discussion among owners, trainers and professionals in the sport.

    The RHT is the subsidiary of the Jockey Club that owns 13 racecourses, including Cheltenham and Aintree.

    The Jump Racing Advisory Panel (JRAP) held its first meeting before racing at Cheltenham on Friday to discuss the proposals. It will be up to the JRAP to discuss, dismantle, then reconstruct the proposals before putting a final paper to the British Horseracing Board prior to the start of the 2004-5 jumps season.

    “You could say that we’ve loosed a hare,” says Edward Gillespie, Cheltenham’s managing director, who unveiled the framework for the future of jumping. “It is important for the sport that we all have our say.”

    Among the key recommendations is:

    • a set period for jumping from October to April to compete against the growth of all-weather flat racing
    • the transfer of big races from the smaller tracks to be run on Saturdays
    • a £500,000 order of merit ranking of the top 100 chasers and hurdlers
    • fields with a minimum of eight runners

    Overall, the idea is to make jump racing more appealing to the betting public.

    Naturally, there has been a mixed reception. Martin Pipe, the 13-times champion trainer, shrugged it off saying: “Why alter the system? I think it is working; the all-weather hasn’t got the better of us yet. Let’s wait and see what they come up with in the end.”

    Paul Nicholls, currently throwing down a serious threat to Pipe’s crown, says: “I don’t want to see the Haldon Gold Cup taken from Exeter. It is the highlight of the year at an excellent track.”

    This Saturday’s Tote Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon, which features national hunt star Best Mate, is a prime example of a race that could be transferred to a higher profile track.

    Racecourse manager Tina Dawson would be sorry to see the race leave Huntingdon (an RHT-owned course), but reasons: “It would not be the downfall of Huntingdon, as it is a cracking track and we would promote other races. We’ve got to look at national hunt racing in the long term against the evolution of all-weather racing and fodder for the betting shops.”

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