“It’s lovely flat racing weather,” a comment made to me by a fellow racegoer recently. Indeed it was a lovely hot summers day, the trouble is we were at a jump meeting at the time, where the going was good to firm, two jockeys had to be taken to hospital and two horses made the ultimate sacrifice, interestingly neither from falls but from injuries seemingly sustained as a result of jarring on the ground.
There was a time, not that many years ago, when the jump racing season ended in spring and restarted again in the autumn. Similarly the flat season started in spring and ended in the autumn. We knew where we were, summer was the flat season, winter the jumps season with a couple of weeks overlap either end of the seasons to ease the transition.
In 2007 the last race of the old national hunt season started at 4:45 on Saturday 28th April at Market Rasen and ended, appropriately, with a flourishing victory for the Alan King trained Georgian King. The first race of the new jumps season started 21¼ hours later at Ludlow when 3lb claimer D Jacob briefly became the leading jockey of the season with victory on Beechwood in the 2:00 at Ludlow.
As shown from the above example there is now no gap at all in the season for national hunt racing. Flat racing, although racing almost every day of the year – there are only 16 racing days in 2007 where there was no flat racing scheduled, does at least have a distinction between the turf and all-weather seasons, although even these dates have been open to interpretation with fixtures being transferred from the turf to all-weather.
Whilst this all year racing may be good news for the racecourses, two jump courses have gone on record this week as saying summer meetings are more profitable than winter meetings, are they good for jockeys and, more importantly, the horses. I say more importantly for the horses because, at the end of the day jockeys can decide if and when they take a holiday. Horses, as far as I am aware, are not involved in the discussions with owners and trainers as to when or where they run.
All jockeys, but even more so jump jockeys with the increased number of falls, put their bodies through all sorts of hell throughout the year. Racing throughout the year, with no proper breaks, cannot do them any good at all. Why not introduce a close season for professional jump jockeys, whilst still maintaining racing? For example, for the first four weeks after the end of the official jumps season, confine all jump races to conditional and amateur jockeys, forcing the professionals to take a break. In terms of restricting rides for conditionals and amateurs just impose an annual limit of the number of rides they can take. Alternatively bring in a rule that all jockeys must, as a minimum, have two breaks of at least fourteen consecutive days throughout the year. A period of injury can count towards this, but not suspension.
The current warm weather also highlights the other inherent risk of summer jumping and that is unsuitable going. I know there already provisions in place to ensure there is safe going at summer jumps meetings, however with the apparent change in climate and ongoing water shortages, this needs to be reviewed. Should consideration be given to bringing in a rule that summer jumps meetings should only be held at courses that can maintain, at best good going or softer and who have the guaranteed means to provide reliable watering to ensure such going can be provided?
Recently Taunton made the brave and most likely commercially costly decision to cancel a meeting due to the going being too firm. Looking at the number of injuries sustained by horses and jockey when jumping on good to firm going I believe the whole issue needs to be looked at by the HRA.
When a horse is sadly killed in a fall it is all too obvious that the worse has happened, when a horse has to be destroyed following a race the fact is often hidden from the racing public. Horses are often put down in the stables after the races have finished with no mention being made in any of the race reports in the racing press. Indeed I only found out about the horses mentioned in the first paragraph, when a racegoer seated next to me enquired of an official the fate of a faller in the previous race. As it happened the faller was OK but the official did mention the two horses from previous races had been destroyed. Even the commentator who was standing nearby said it was the first he had known of it.
I realise racing needs to be economical and courses need to make money, however it would do no harm to look into the current allocation of summer jump fixtures to see if modifications need to be made to the fixture list to improve the safety for both horses and jockeys, whilst at the same time maintaining the financial viability of courses.
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