From the mid-eighties through into the early nineties, I followed horse racing extremely closely. I had a bet (but only a little one) several times a week and regularly trekked up to Gosforth Park for an afternoon of usually chilly and always financially unproductive national hunt racing.
Apart from the Grand National, I rarely venture near a bookies nowadays, but having watched a lot of races from this week’s Cheltenham Festival, I feel compelled to tap away on my keyboard for a few minutes...
For me there has always been a distinction between flat and national hunt racing. Of course I admire the speed and athleticism of the elite flat horses, but half a dozen runs and they’re off to start breeding (and making money) whereas our old jumping favourites often return year after year. These animals may not be able to keep pace with the Frankels of this world, but they’ve got strength and courage in abundance – as have the jump jockeys who risk (sometimes literally) life and limb every time they take to the course.
The perils of national hunt racing were never more evident than with the terrible injuries sustained by JT McNamara during the week. As the stricken jockey lay in hospital, the racing continued, but the genuine concern and humility of those jockeys interviewed after winning major races was incredibly touching and one can only hope that a full recovery is the eventual outcome...
Along with the “spills” come the “thrills” and in my era, racing was blessed with the charismatic and supremely gifted Desert Orchid, but my favourite horses were the dual Aintree Hurdle winner Aonoch and Gee-A, who won the Foxhunters’ Chase at Aintree in 1992.
That day, the horse was ridden by amateur Paul Murphy and won at 66/1 – I had my customary 50p at 100/1 and, amazingly, was the only person in the bookies to back the winner. The actual reason I followed the horse was that it was often ridden by lady jockey Gee Armytage (although it wasn’t named after her as you might think). Call me fickle, but she was gorgeous...
Back in 2013 and I will admit to watching in complete awe the performance of Sprinter Sacre in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. There were other exceptional winners and great stories, but for me the incredible speed and jumping ability of Nicky Henderson’s seven year old elevated his victory above everything else at the Festival.
There have been comparisons with Frankel – not because they’re valid, but because they make good copy. I know which of the two I’d have paid to watch on a racetrack and just for the record, if you need to reassess the relative merit of older horses to ensure Frankel is the best there’s ever been, then something’s not quite right – for us mere mortals, it’s a subjective argument but I’ve never seen a better horse on the flat than Dancing Brave. His Arc win still takes the breath away...
Anyway, that’s it as far as the writing is concerned, but for now my thoughts remain with JT McNamara and his family...
All my own work... almost.