Thrilling: Galopin Des Champs, with Paul Townend up
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First past the post

The Critic’s Racing Awards

This article is taken from the December/January 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

I am old enough to remember the days when the BBC’s sports broadcasting was iconic — both the events it covered and the way it covered them. Now it’s just a mishmash of secondhand highlights programmes, some rugby and Wimbledon (and as everyone secretly knows, tennis is the sport for people who don’t like sport).

Back in those earlier days, the BBC’s annual Sports Review in December and the award of the Sports Personality of the Year was something everyone looked forward to. But one thing used to grate; even when the BBC’s racing coverage was one of the jewels in its sporting crown, it would rarely get more than a perfunctory mention in the programme. And since it moved to Channel 4 and now ITV, racing hardly gets more than a sentence or two.

Since it moved to Channel 4 and now ITV, racing hardly gets more than a sentence or two

The Beeb’s hierarchy must have been puce with anger when the sport got its act together in 2010 and a campaign to get racing fans to vote for Tony McCoy came off and he won — ahead of darts legend Phil “The Power” Taylor.

Moaning about the lack of recognition for racing isn’t going to achieve anything. So let me introduce The Critic’s first racing awards. Each award has been carefully considered by a panel of me, with the prize of my esteem.


On the flat, it’s difficult to avoid Baaeed, despite losing his unbeaten record in the Champion Stakes. But the winner has to be A Plus Tard. Last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup runner-up was dominant in the race this year. Sixth turning for home, ice cool Rachel Blackmore sat and sat and sat until producing him just before the last, after which he accelerated clear of 2021 winner Minella Indo to win by fifteen lengths.


Constitution Hill could turn out to be a wonder horse, having already broken all records by winning the Supreme Novices at Cheltenham by an astonishing twenty-two lengths. The contest with Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle next March is mouth watering.

But for a truly visceral thrill, perhaps bizarrely, it’s a horse who fell at the final fence at Cheltenham. Yup: Willie Mullins’s six-year-old Galopin Des Champs, who was miles clear of Bob Olinger when he came down in his novice chase. But the previously unbeaten chaser remains one of the most exciting jumpers I’ve ever seen, and I can’t wait to see him in the Gold Cup.


Too little credit has been given to the superb ride given by “journeyman” jockey Luke Morris

I’m tempted to go for Sam Waley-Cohen, an amateur in name only, whose record shows him to be one of the greatest of all round Aintree and whose Grand National winning ride was simply perfect. But everything about the result of this year’s Arc de Triomphe was magical, with the previously unheralded Alpinista showing that her sequence of Group 1 wins were no soft touches and a joyous win for trainer Sir Mark Prescott.

But too little credit has been given to the superb ride given by “journeyman” jockey Luke Morris, far more often spotted at the likes of Southwell and Wolverhampton than Paris, but who showed just what he is capable of.


On the flat, William Buick has matured into a top-flight rider, up there with the best in the world. But once again Rachel Blackmore showed over jumps that if you want a horse to be given the best possible chance, there is no finer or shrewder jockey. She is a marvel.


The long drooled-over first meeting between outstanding two-mile chasers Shishkin and Energumene in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January was every bit as good as had been hoped for, with a pulsating battle after the last that will be rewatched for decades to come.

As they turned for home it looked for all the world as if Energumene had shaken off Shishkin, but Nico de Boinville’s mount has sensational acceleration and he deployed it devastatingly, even after such a fiercely run contest. A race for the ages.

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