HERE we go again. Another week, another non-event in British jumps racing.
It makes you want to tear your hair out – it’s clear after all these years that there are big problems with the way the season is constructed.
Yesterday, for the third time in five days, there was a match race staged over fences in Britain. This time at Cheltenham, the home of jumps racing itself.
When the inevitable happens and a fifth day is added to the Cheltenham Festival, maybe the card should be made up entirely of two-runner races, in honour of the rest of the jumps season…
Granted, the head-to-head between My Drogo and Gin On Lime ended up being one of the most dramatic races we’ve seen for years, but that’s besides the point!
There were a relatively-healthy ten entries for the £25,000 race – won by the likes of Imperial Commander and Dynaste in the past – at the five-day stage but only two turned up.
Worryingly, SIX of the entries were Irish-trained. Where the hell are our decent novice chasers?
Races of this nature are regularly poorly supported so there is obviously something wrong with them, be it the race conditions or the frequency of them.
We all look forward to the start of the National Hunt season, but every year we find ourselves lumped with a stream of non-events.
It’s a cold, hard fact that field sizes have been shrinking over the last decade and, according to a recent report, things are as bad now as they’ve ever been since data was first collected in 1995.
Last Sunday, Chantry House strolled home ahead of one rival in a £25,000 race at Sandown, while 1-5 shot Ebony Gale breezed home in a two-runner contest worth £15,000 at Taunton on Thursday.
There is £330,000 prize-money on the line at Cheltenham tomorrow but there are just 47 runners, and 20 of those are because of the Greatwood Hurdle. It’s troubling.
What is the answer? I’m not sure, in all honesty.
But I do know there is too much racing and too much power in too few hands – the jumps season is now in need of a complete rethink.
Weirdly, trainers blamed the ground for small fields at Cheltenham, even though it will be bordering on perfect Good to Soft going the entire weekend.
I have a huge amount of respect for Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson, two modern greats who are good people to boot.
But this week’s debacle reminded me of the time when both men hit out at field sizes at Kempton a couple of years ago, when both had runners in match races.
After Whisper beat Clan Des Obeaux in a head-to-head, Hendo said: “I just don’t know why there aren’t more runners today.
“When the entries for this race were revealed, Paul sent me a text that said: ‘Is everybody asleep?’”
And Nicholls added: “I think it’s too easy for horses to dodge these races and to run in handicaps instead. It’s not good for racing.”
Where were your runners then, lads?
And that goes for Olly Murphy, Philip Hobbs, Harry Fry, Fergal O’Brien, Alan King and Nigel Twiston-Davies.
That’s not to say this small-field epidemic is the fault of the trainers, but in these concerning times we need our big yards to step up to the plate.
National Hunt horses don’t belong in cotton wool, they belong on the track.
Where are you, Chris?
DURING the entire Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne saga, it’s been somewhat overlooked that a man has literally disappeared off the face of the earth.
Chris Watts, the former head of integrity at the BHA and the compiler of the infamous 120-page bullying report that was leaked to the papers, left the regulator without a trace back in September.
At least we think it was September. One day he was there, the next he wasn’t.
The BHA confirmed in a cold and calculated email that he was no longer employed and offered no further comment – no ‘thank you Chris for your service’, no ‘we wish you all the best’. Nada.
Interestingly, a source of mine at the BHA has said that all trace of Watts’ four-year tenure has been erased in their system and there is no evidence he was ever in the job. It’s like he never existed.
His was the latest in a string of high-profile exits from the under-fire integrity department in the last five years – questions need to be asked.
Watts was due to give evidence at the upcoming Frost/Dunne hearing, but the BHA have said he will no longer be attending.
Something serious must have gone down in the corridors of 75 High Holborn, and former copper Watts has gone to ground and apparently doesn’t want to be found.
I have it on good authority that the Frost/Dunne case will be heard before the end of the month and that the press will be able to attend. Maybe we can get some answers then.
In the meantime, if you’re out there Chris, do get in touch. We are starting to worry about you!
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