Another Year Over

Well another year comes to an end and it is worrying, as one gets older, the years seem to pass by faster and faster.

Once again I have failed in my quest to visit every racecourse in the UK in a calendar year, I only managed to visit 53 different courses during the year.

Although the cause wasn’t helped this year by the appalling bad weather, missing several weeks racing due to illness and a few weeks due to the Olympic Games.

I cannot remember a year where there have been so many races lost to the weather throughout the year, if memory serves me correct March is the only month where we didn’t lose a meeting due to weather related incidents.

There have been plenty of racing highlights choose from this year and although I am, at heart, a National Hunt man the two days that really stand out were both at Ascot flat meetings.

The Saturday of Royal Ascot and the UK début of Black Caviar, the anticipation and expectation then the sheer tension of the race itself as her rider seemed to do his utmost to throw the race away and the long, palpable, almost eternal pause as we waited for Nick Bostock to call the result. Followed by the relief we were not going to witness a jockey lynching.

Then there was Champions Day and the dénouement to Frankel's career. Even that was not without drama with the testing conditions and the final decision about his participation not being made until mid-morning. I've never experienced an atmosphere like it on a racecourse and Frankel seemed to know he was the star and the centre of attention. 32,348 people there and almost every one wanting to see the one horse.

He was cheered out, cheered in the race and cheered home. Barely a dry eye in the house. Even wizened hacks had tears rolling down their cheeks as he won.

 It was also appropriate that in the race before Excelebration, for whom Frankel had been a nemesis, arguably ran the race of his life to deservedly win the QEII. It was the perfect racing day.

Of course it hasn’t been all roses in the racing world and this month we have seen the closure of two racecourses with both Folkestone and Hereford staging what may well be their final meetings, although there is the very slight hope racing may again take place again at one or even both venues.

The closure of racecourses is a very emotive issue. I confess with both Hereford and Folkestone I do not have any emotional attachment to and being an unapologetic, fully paid up, capitalist I can see the financial logic and business reasoning behind the closure of the courses.

However I can also fully understand the emotional responses to the closures. BBC Radio’s erstwhile racing correspondent Cornelius Lysaght first went racing at Hereford and is a local lad. I can understand the bond that can exists with your first and / or local course – I feel the same way about Fontwell, almost to an obsessive degree.

I know I would fight tooth and nail if there was any suggestion of closing Fontwell, even if the economic case was compelling. So I would be hypocritical if I were to criticise those who fight to preserve Hereford and Folkestone.

What has irritated me though are those who suddenly jumped on a bandwagon to support Hereford and Folkestone.  There are still no official attendance figures available for either of the final meetings but, by all accounts, the courses were almost packed to the gunnels.

Where were these people when other meetings were taking place? Hereford often struggled to attract 1,000 racegoers, just 548 attended Folkestone’s meeting on 31st January this year.

How many of the great and good in the racing media, quick to criticise the closures, actually turn up at the “smaller” courses on a regular basis?

Are the vast numbers turning up at the final meetings those who really care or are they the same rubberneckers who slow down to have a look when they encounter an accident whilst driving.

I have to confess I deliberately avoided the final meetings at both Hereford and Folkestone for that very reason. Indeed I would never knowingly go to a “final meeting” at any course because I know those final memories would not reflect the reality.

Note I said I wouldn’t knowingly go to a final meeting at a track, I have once attended a “final” meeting unknowingly.

It is quite ironic, knowing how much I dislike artificial surface racing, that I was at what turned out to be Great Leighs final meeting back in January 2009.

Of course none of us knew it at the time, it was only after racing had finished we found out.

In keeping with the incomplete facilities at the course there was no press room so John Holmes office used to double up as a “press room”. It wasn’t a big deal as there were only three of us working there that evening, two from the Racing Post and myself. It was only as we were packing up after a nondescript evenings racing that we were “tipped off” the course would be going into administration the following day.

It was a good way for a course to close as ones final memories were of a “normal” race meeting and not of a contrived wake.       

So 2012 has gone so what does 2013 hold?

We certainly have quite a few potential stars to look forward to in the jumping world, plus will Dawn Approach be the next big flat star?

I’ll have another attempt at doing every UK course in a calendar year, maybe my final attempt, as 2013 may be my final year racing.

I’m finding putting in the mileage in is getting increasingly difficult, not just the ever increasing fuel costs entailed in driving in excess of 30,000 miles a year but it is, frankly, knackering. I’m not a youngster anymore and my body is telling me to slow down and I’m paying the price for ignoring it.

I had planned to give up the racing at the end of 2015 but I now have some other, non-racing, writing projects on the horizon and, frankly, they are much more financially lucrative than writing about racing.

In addition one of the planned projects will need three months dedicated work.

So 2013 may well be my racing swansong, all the more reason to visit every course this year, as I have always said once I write my final racing report, I will walk away from the sport for good.

Happy New Year to you all may it bring all that you wish for.    


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