Too much going on in our wonderfully strange sport this week to devote appropriate space to everything but let’s try to fit in as much as possible – although I have still yet to cool down after watching the New Zealand Rugby Union and Rugby League teams produce heart-stopping , ‘impossible’ last-second comebacks over the weekend. Astonishing .
So here goes:
Farewell in the best possible sense to Richard Hannon who decided with no particular sense of fanfare (typical of the man) that at 68 enough was enough and the time had come to hand over the reins to Hannon junior. Plenty, quite rightly, has already been written in tribute to a superlative 44-year training career but my own plaudit is simply that here is a straightforward, honest-as-the-day-is-long guy who built up a wonderful empire without, until very recent times, having any support from big-name and big money owners. An exceptional achievement. Hopefully the handover to his son will be undertaken in the same seamless fashion that hallmarked Andrew Balding and Charles Hills assuming control of high-quality yards from high-quality fathers.
Nevertheless it will seem all too strange to embark upon the 2014 Flat racing campaign without Richard Hannon and the late Sir Henry Cecil at the helm of their respective yards. Time moves on.
- Having reflected upon the excellent three days of the Cheltenham Open meeting, I am not convinced that we saw any future stars on show. I happily await being proved wrong. My personal highlight was to see Richie McLernon, talented and underrated, steal the show with a typically canny ride to land the ‘big one’ on Johns Spirit. It remains so surprising he does not attract more outside rides.
- The Betfair Chase was a fabulous affair and I couldn’t have been more wrong about the outcome believing Cue Card to be a non-stayer in such company at the extended three-mile trip. However, great to see a family concern land such a magnificent renewal but a word of consolation to Nicky Henderson.
I hate seeing champions being heavily beaten in any sport so spare a thought for the champion trainer who saw not one but two Gold Cup winners fail to make the frame. Hopefully, both will be back in winning fettle anon. The King George suddenly becomes a fabulous race in prospect with the first two surely taking one another on again.
- A comment please from the Horsemen’s Group – and the sooner the better. They have been rightly vocal about prize-money levels and what needs to be done about them so let’s have an explanation of owners shunning the major prizes on offer at Ascot on Saturday when the top races attracted 2 and 4 runners respectively. They can’t have it all ways. Don’t moan about a situation and then go awfully mute on the dreadful Ascot turnout.
- Talking of which, step forward Karen McLintock. What a clever lady. All the way down from the north to take on Zarkandar and The Super Annie with her no-hoper. Travelled nicely for over half the race, had a nice blow and came home in his own time. The reward – over £11,000 – the equivalent of winning two or three handicap hurdles and / or chases in the north. I imagine Nicky Henderson was pretty pleased to see old favourite French Opera have a nice school round the Royal racecourse too behind Al Ferof and pick up ten grand plus.
- One plea to the media. Can we possibly not ask every trainer that wins with a juvenile/novice hurdler if they will be going to Cheltenham in March – nor novice chasers for that matter? The NH season is an exciting affair and not everything needs to relate to Prestbury Park in the early spring. The Betfair Chase proved that so let’s enjoy the racing – week on week – for what it is.
- Hennessy Gold Cup next week – seems to be on everyone’s list of favourite races. Great race in prospect again but the Fighting Fifth Hurdle clash between My Tent Or Yours and Melodic Rendezvous could be worth going a long way to see – so that’s what I’ll be doing.
- Enjoy your racing – both in England and Ireland. You simply will not see better jump racing anywhere else in the world