Ignoring the little matter of Christophe Soumillon’s whip ban, more of that anon, there can be little doubt that the first British Champions Day at Ascot can justifiably claim to have lived up to its billing of “The Greatest Show On Turf”
Of course the organisers had a little outside help in that the weather God’s were incredibly kind and there was the presence of arguably the greatest horse of all time, Frankel.
However even the most determined Newmarketphile, even the most cynical sceptic must accept that yesterday went really well and once again Ascot proved itself the perfect venue of a major race meeting.
Rod Street and his team must be justifiably proud of the way the day turned out, although they must also be cursing the BHA in terms of the timing of the introduction of the new whip rules.
The balance of the days racing was good, although it may be worth considering a 45 minute gap between the two feature races as it seemed we were thrown into the Champion Stakes all too soon after Frankel’s impressive victory in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes.
My biggest concern as the day approached was the on course presentation, my fear were unfounded. Back in August I was very critical of Ascot’s use of Matt Chapman’s on Shergar Cup day and I was equally worried when I heard he was to front the on-course presentation for Champions Day.
Those of you who read my blog last week will recall my reservations, although they were tempered with the comment that if anybody could pull it off then Matt could and pull it off he did.
I am happy to admit I was wrong and I believe Matt managed to get it right on the button. OK there were a couple of occasions when I feared his natural exuberance may have gotten the better of him but no he was good. Robert Cowell was also a good choice as the straight man to Matt.
My only question about the presentation team was the “value” added by Amanda Davies and I still cannot help but feel she was included as the “token totty”.
I must admit I also had slight concerns about the use of Mike Vince for the on-course commentary, not least because Mike gets very little live racecourse commentary options.
Speaking to Mike beforehand, and I’m sure he will not mind me saying this, he was understandably nervous, especially by the final 29 runner contest. Mike was not helped by the fact, with coverage by BBC TV and radio as well as the Racetech commentator, none of the “official” commentary boxes were available and he had to make do with a makeshift position short of the finishing line.
Because of his makeshift position he did not have full use of the multiple camera shots the other commentators had.
In the circumstances Mike did very well indeed, his calls for the Championship races were absolutely fine and he was able to link in with the presentation team. He also made a very good job of the final contest, considering the pictures and angles he had to work from and he should be rightly pleased with his afternoons work.
The only real gripe I would have about the presentation is it seemed to take precedence over the judge announcing the details of the result. On more than one occasion we had to wait for the winning distances and race times until after a winner had been “called back in”. It may sound insignificant but those details are important and need to be disseminated as quickly as possible, but that is a minor gripe in the scheme of things.
Ascot, once again, proved more than capable of hosting a major international meeting and it is certainly a more “user friendly” venue than Newmarket.
Much as I love Ascot I do think consideration should be given to alternating the meeting between the north and south, if only to give racegoers based in the north the opportunity to watch such high class racing live. Although, selfishly, I am more than happy if it does permanently reside at Ascot.
One thing that struck me yesterday was how popular the parade ring was. There may have been just over 26,749 at Ascot yesterday but the numbers around the parade ring were akin to those seen at the Royal Ascot where the total numbers are far higher.
Of course for all the positives and plaudits of the day, as well as the high class racing, the day was overshadowed by the ban and withholding of fees for Christophe Soumillion following his victory on Cirrus Des Aigles in the Champion Stakes.
Much has been written about the new whip rules in the last week and it is clear some compromise needs to be reached. So to save the egos getting in the way here is the solution.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the new rules so a “count” should remain in place, whether the current limit is correct is a moot point, we have not had any three mile slogs in the mud since their introduction. Retain the “count” but remove the final furlong restriction as it is abundantly clear it is difficult for the riders to judge when they have crossed the furlong marker.
The penalties need to be effective but it is clear the new penalties are too draconian for minor infringements. I would therefore retain the ban guidelines as they are now but would only introduce the withholding of fees and prize money for serious or repeated breaches. By serious I mean where the number of hits exceeds the limit by 50% or more (rounded up) or where a rider has a third breach in a rolling 12 month period.
Finally, Paul Roy should do the decent thing and resign. He has lost what little remaining credibility he may have had and, frankly his performance on RUK yesterday afternoon was an embarrassment.