Anticipating the jump season
Now we’ve got the past few months out of the way we can get back to enjoying ourselves. Summer serves only one purpose: enabling cricket to be played. Otherwise, it’s pointless. Flat racing is, well … flat. Who ever got excited by something described as “flat”?
And while summer jumping is useful for the smaller trainers who need to keep the wolf from the door, it’s all a bit dreary. No, the year doesn’t really begin again until October, when the ground eases and trainers start to run some of their decent horses.
Ed Gillespie, who spent 32 years as managing director of Cheltenham, is rightly lauded for turning the Festival into the Olympics of jump racing
I’m old enough to remember when the mid-October Chepstow meeting marked the start of semi- decent jump racing, but that fixture withered to nothing. Credit to Chepstow for putting in some real effort to revive it — this month’s two-day Jump Season Opener, as they are styling it, has £400,000 of prize money, the Grade 2 Unibet Persian War Novices’ Hurdle and a £75,000 handicap hurdle.
That’ll get the juices flowing again, and then it’s just fortnight’s wait for what Cheltenham now calls The Showcase, its opening two-day fixture.
It’s the anticipation I love, knowing the next few weeks are going to bring so much. Ed Gillespie, who spent 32 years as managing director of Cheltenham, is rightly lauded for turning the Festival into the Olympics of jump racing.
But he also worked his magic on the November meeting and under Ian Renton it’s continued to grow into a fully-fledged three-day festival in its own right with what I still think of as the Mackeson (now the Paddy Power Gold Cup) as the first big race of the season.
But for me, of the early season races, it’s got to be the Hennessy. (I know it stopped being the Hennessy after its sixtieth running in 2016 and this year it’s the Coral Gold Cup). If I was still an owner, that would be the race I’d most love to win.
There’s a magic to it, with serious horses going for it over three-and-a-quarter miles at Newbury. Nothing beats a staying chaser and no other handicap for them comes close to it. What a roll call: Bachelor’s Hall, Diamond Edge, Bregawn, Brown Chamberlin, Burrough Hill Lad, One Man, Suny Bay, Teeton Mill, Gingembre, Bobs Worth, Many Clouds.
That’s for starters. Never try to argue with me when I say Denman winning in 2009 carrying 11st 12lb was the greatest handicap win ever. Because, if you do, you’re simply wrong.
But I’ll go to my grave convinced that Bright Highway, who won in 1980, would have also been one of the greats had he not been injured. He won the Hennessy through sheer determination two weeks after the Mackeson — an astonishing double — and was made ante post favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. But he never made it. Sometimes it’s the ones that got away that we remember best.
The betfair chase is the first Grade 1 of the season on the last Saturday in November. But I’ve always disliked Haydock as a racecourse. When it rains the ground is not so much heavy as a bog.
I hate the sight of horses running on it, and the results are too often freakish because so many animals take one look at it and — I’d do the same — say “No thank you, I’m not having this.”
But this year we might get the best last. On 2nd December, the same day as the Coral Gold Cup, Constitution Hill will likely run in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle. Last year he didn’t so much beat the other four runners as run in an entirely different race in which he was the only runner. The horse is a freak — yet another from Nicky Henderson’s Seven Barrows yard.
There must be a chance he will instead go novice chasing, having won last season’s Champion Hurdle with similar ease, and that will mean another race for his seasonal debut.
But whatever owner Michael Buckley and Nicky Henderson decide, just be grateful for the opportunity to watch one of the most magnificent horses ever to live. I can’t wait.
This article is taken from the October 2023 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.
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