By Sam Hendry and Charlie Huggins
The week of Cheltenham’s first meeting of the season, the Jockey Club revealed that the Cheltenham Festival would remain at four days much to the relief of the racing public. On the Prestbury Park track, Irish raiders dominated, while across the rails, racing fans were handed £7.50 pints. Here are three things we learned this week.
1. Against all odds, common sense still exists
It takes a lot to unite all races on one issue with so many different voices having a say at the top. However, this week the sport has joined in the shared relief not once but twice.
On Monday, the Jockey Club decided against extending the Cheltenham Festival to five days, opting instead to stick it out rather than twist and go with the four-day option. With goodwill rather than greed prevailing, it was widely seen as a victory for the sport.
Two days later, the BHA announced that 170 races would be canceled next summer. It has received similar praise as frustrations mount over Britain’s growing racing problem with shrinking field sizes and competitiveness.
While 170 races is a drop in the bucket, it was a welcome development given that it looked like we would have to wait until 2024 for any significant changes to the fixture list after a proposal to drop 300 races. was discontinued earlier this year.
We could get used to this new common sense approach – keep it up.
2. The dominance of Irish jumps is obvious, but underestimated before March
Irish dominance at Cheltenham is nothing new. The 23-5 Prestbury Cup scoreline against Ireland at the 2021 festival will be long remembered and the track’s season-opening meeting followed a similar pattern with half of the 14 winners coming from based coaches in Ireland.
However, some markets had an odd look on them in favor of British-trained runners, including the 2m handicap pursuit won by Dads Lad.
Willie Mullins saddled a record ten winners at this year’s festival and Dads Lad was the first horse he had ever raced in Britain in October. Surely his unexposed fighter near the bottom of the weights would be the favorite? Bad.
Laura Morgan’s Clear The Runway, who had an admirable five-game winning streak over the summer, was the 9-4 favorite as they rose in class against better opposition. He finished last of the six finalists.
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Dads Lad (green) and Effernock Fizz (yellow): Scored in Britain this month against fancier rivals trained in Britain
There was a similar result earlier this month when Peter Fahey-trained Peregrine Run picked up a valuable handicap from Chepstow, returning a 15-2 chance. The British-trained Tea Clipper were kicked out of the 11-8 favourite.
Peregrine Run had shown he was in good form when he won at Worcester two starts before, but his British-trained rivals were still favored. So did Effernock Fizz, who won the Welsh Champion Hurdle 9-2 as the sole Irish representative.
We are only in the early stages of jumping season, but Irish trained horses in Britain are not taken as seriously as they should be.
3. The price of a pint is an issue that could sway racing fans
It says a lot when a £6.50 Guinness at Aintree looks reasonable compared to the £7.50 version served in paper beakers at Cheltenham on Saturday, when prices had more tongue than the race itself.
Next year, a Club Enclosure ticket for Gold Cup Day will cost £108. A trip on an inevitably cramped train from London could set you back nearly £100, while a pint on the right track will leave you with just a dime of a ten.
Racing fans are loyal and even in this financial climate will do what they can to keep up with the sport they love, but when they are served 7.50 pints the patience will surely start to wear thin.
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FIRST PUBLICATION AT 7:05 PM, OCTOBER 23, 2022
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