Trainer Aidan O’Brien, jockey Ryan Moore and Savethelastdance

Reasons to be cheerful

Ten things that are wonderful about British racing

Turf Account

This article is taken from the May 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

There’s a lot of gloom and doom around racing at the moment — quite rightly. I’ve looked at some of the most pressing issues on these pages. But we all need to put our head in the sand every now and then and pretend things are fine. In that spirit, with summer approaching and the sun on its way, I thought I’d offer something a bit less miserable than usual. So here are ten things that are wonderful about British racing.

  • The sheer variety. It’s not just that we have jump and flat racing — even in places where racing thrives, such as the US and Australia, jumping is either non-existent or barely registers. But our courses are so different, from world-class venues like Ascot to tiny tracks where volunteers make the sandwiches, like Bangor and Cartmel. You can never get bored with it all.
  • Jockeys. I mean … bloody hell, these people make Formula 1 drivers seem risk-averse. We don’t give them the credit they deserve simply for doing their crazy job. Last month, Stefano Cherchi, an Italian who rode here from 2018 before moving to Australia last November, was killed in a racing accident in Canberra. It could happen to any jockey at any time in any race — and yet they all face the prospect as if it’s not even there.
  • Coverage of racing. The usual moan is that newspapers have slashed the space they give to racing. Well, yes. But — and I say this with pain — newspaper readership has been on a downward curve for years. What matters is exposure to racing, and we have fantastic coverage on ITV, two racing channels (yes, I know I’ve written here how mad that is in a different context), and some excellent social media accounts. Let’s not forget how many sports are desperate for even a shred of the attention racing gets.
  • Analysis of racing. Ruby Walsh (on both ITV and Racing TV) is one of the great sports pundits. Lydia Hislop on Racing TV is a superb presenter and interviewer. They are both in a different league to their equivalents covering — for example — football.
  • Aidan O’Brien. I’ve written before that he is, quite simply, the greatest ever trainer. We don’t have to look back nostalgically at his achievements. We can appreciate them in real time. Watching a genius at work is a rare privilege, which we have.
  • Betting. The puritans might be trying to stamp it out, but for all bar a tiny minority of punters, having a bet on a race is a fun way to spend some time and money. Enjoy it whilst it lasts. (That was meant to sound positive, but I can’t help my inner misanthrope from coming out.)
  • John Gosden. He’s obviously a brilliant trainer. But he is so much more. He’s a superb advocate for the sport, who never shies away from speaking about its problems and is a model of how to communicate in today’s world. Beyond all that, however, he brings a penetrating intelligence to everything he says. I often think that the answer to racing’s myriad problems is to hand everything over to John Gosden.
  • Glorious Goodwood. Regular readers will know I prefer jumping to the flat. But there is nothing that compares with Glorious Goodwood, five days in July and August that feel like you’re at a large, glamorous party in the country, with views that take your breath away and racing that manages to be both serious and fun at the same time. If you only ever go racing once, go to Glorious Goodwood.
  • Sandown’s railway fences. Nothing better encapsulates the thrill of watching chasers at full pelt than the three fences that run alongside the South Western Main Line, which provide the perfect test of a horse’s ability to meet a fence and jump it at pace. There’s no hiding place over jumps at Sandown.
  • Syndicates. When I first got into racing in the 1970s, the thought that I might one day own a horse was away with the fairies. But the rise of syndicates, in which you own a share of a horse, has enabled me to do just that. There are some, like the Owners Group, where £50 buys you what might be a 5000th of a horse. I’ve always preferred those with a more substantial share, where you’re one of, say, 20 owners. School fees have long put paid to that, but one day I hope to resume …

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