Do you remember when we were children how time seemed to drag? It seemed like eons between Christmas’s and even school holidays seemed to last for ever. (Although there are many parents who still say school holidays drag on far too long)
Now, as I approach my twilight years, time just flies by. It seems only yesterday we were moving from the frozen desolation of December 2010 into the frozen desolation of January 2011, a period where we were seriously bereft of racing.
It is really a year ago that the entire Boxing Day program was wiped out?
I have this theory about “quickening” time as you age.
When you are 10 years old one year represents 10% of your entire life. When you reach 50 one year represents a mere 2% of your life so, relatively speaking, it is a much shorter period of time.
So will 2011 be a classic year for racing, despite some great equine performances it will probably be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
The 2011 renewal of the Grand National was not the best showcase for the sport, run in hot conditions we saw horses finishing exhausted and the winner being very much on the wrong end of his riders enthusiastic use of the whip. If that wasn’t bad enough viewers were “treated” to some appalling BBC camera work which showed two dead horses, one just covered by a sheet of tarpaulin.
We then had the controversial new whip rules. I have no intention of re-igniting the debate here, suffice to say I think it has been universally agreed, by both sides of the argument, that the timing of the implementation – just one week before British Champions Day was the biggest, of many, own goals by the BHA.
We also had the ridiculous, ill conceived, tariff system from the Horseman’s Group, the incredulous delay to the issuing of the 2012 fixture list, the conclusion of a huge corruption investigation as well as innumerable smaller embarrassments.
Luckily we had some great equine starts to more than compensate for the ills delivered by racings administrators.
The brightest star in the racing firmament is undoubtedly Frankel.
Even those of us who prefer the “twig jumping” side of the sport cannot help but admire this exceptional beast. Unbeaten, he still seems to be able to win, even when impossible situations.
His victory in the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket must rate as the most devastation demolition of a filed in a Classic ever. Even the, normally emotionless, tones of Ian Bartlett reflected what an awesome performance it was.
There are, as always, some detractors who say Frankel has only performed over a mile and to be a great horse he has to perform over further and show versatility.
I know I was embroiled in a debate as to whether Sea The Stars or Frankel was the greater horse. In the end I narrowly sided with Sea The Stars simply because he has demonstrated a greater versatility in terms if distance. It was a close call.
In 2012 it seems connections will be willing to step Frankel up to 10 furlongs. If he continues to dominate at that distance I will willingly place him on top of the pile – I am really looking forward to seeing him again next season.
British Champion’s Day was heralded with strong views both for and against. Fortunately for the organisers the racing Gods were smiling on the big day. Yes there was the controversy over a certain whip ban but even the most curmudgeonly person will agree the day was a success. The sun shone and the presence of a superstar, Frankel all helped to make the day a great one. I have to say it was only the second time I have seen a spontaneous round of applause as a flat horse entered a parade ring before a race. (The other, also as Ascot, was when Yeats ran his final Gold Cup).
Much as I love Ascot I do, however, think organisers Should consider alternating Champions Day between Ascot and a northern course to give racegoers based in the north to see such high class racing.
On the twig hoping side we saw the, possibly brief, emergence of the younger generation as Long Run took the delayed King George and The Gold Cup. However the old guard were still to have a big say and the first indications actually came in The Gold Cup.
Although Long Run came home the deserved winner it was the continuing battle between Kauto Star and Denman which caught the imagination.
It was strangely ironic this was the first Gold Cup for a few years which had not been dominated by the Kauto / Denman clash in the build-up. Yet this race gave up the best battle between the two. It was the battle between Kauto Star and Denman which really did get the hearts racing that Friday afternoon in Gloucestershire.
The pair had mixed fortunes later in the year with Denman being retired and Kauto Star performing near Lazarus style performances.
Many, including myself, had called for Kauto Star to be retired after his seemingly poor performance in the delayed King George. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight I should have listened more closely to Lee McKenzie. When we were discussing the January King George he pointed out that Kautoi Star’s time for the race was within a going adjusted half second of the times he had recorded in all but one of his previous King George runs and that Long Run had recorded an exceptionally fast time.
The Betfair Chase was to be make or break for Kauto Star. As we all know he won that day, holding off a late challenge from Long Run.
So it was back to Kempton, with the King George back where it belongs on Boxing Day. Another clash between Kauto Star and Long Run, with the youngster sent off favourite.
Well we all know what happened next. The packed house at Kempton almost blew the impressive Kempton stand all the way to Heathrow as the Star really was the star and he recorded an unprecedented fifth King George win. How long before his statue is alongside that of Dessie beside the Kempton Parade ring.
There must be special mentions too for Big Bucks as he continues his domination of the staying division and for Carruthers, who was a great winner of the Hennessey for the wonderful, delightful but sadly ailing Lord Oaksey.
So a curates egg of a year but one where the equine heroes managed to salvage the poor efforts of the humans.
May I wish all my readers a Happy New Year and let us hope racing makes the front pages for all the right reasons in 2012.
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I have received quite a few e-mails following my last article about the commentator’s review, every single one agreeing with how poorly they are being treated and how badly the situation has been handled.
A few people have asked me about the so called “fifth man” as some reports had mentioned five commentators under review. The four names I mentioned in my article were already in the public domain, having been published in the Racing Post. As far as I am aware the fifth name is not in the public domain which is why I made no mention of them.