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Thoughts on the Festival: where racing took centre stage

22-March-2021
22-March-2021 17:19
in General
by Peter McNeile

Festival week normally has Gloucestershire folk comparing notes and reviewing the week for some time after, but since no-one was able to watch except on TV, the ambiance has dissipated all too quickly. Perhaps all the more so for a trail of burst balloons, where highly anticipated performers from within the county failed to hit the sweet spot in the march of the Irish Empire. 

One sole Gloucestershire yard flew the flag for British stables, that of Jonjo O'Neill, who is as irish as they come, even if his sons now have become anglicised. Jonjo's ability to prepare a horse for a top handicap was demonstrated on Wednesday with Sky Pirate, and again on Saturday at Uttoxeter, when Time To Get Up justified his 3/1 favouritism to win the Listed Midlands Grand National, Uttoxeter's signature race. 

Time To Get Up and Jonjo Jnr win the Midlands National

So what are the things to take out of this year's Festival?

Gender is no obstacle to success

The fairer sex had a good Festival. Most obvious, Rachael Blackmore is demonstratimng every day that gender plays no part in being a good horsewoman and jockey. Her tactical nous was on display race after race, and recognition in the Leading Rider Award was long overdue. It can only be a amatter of time before a championship is hers in Ireland, but meantime, she is contenting herself with the cream of Irish bloodstock to ride. 

Leaving aside the three races confined to mares, the females also did well on the track too. Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle, Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup, Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase. Mrs Milner in the Pertemps Final and Mount Ida in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir all took advantage of the weight allowance to stake their claim over the geldings. There is no other contemporary Festival where 8 winners have been mares. 

The Mares Chase was well received and appeared to fill well. New races take a little bedding in so we'll have to give it a year or two. 

Novice Hurdlers are spread too thin

Do you remember a time when the Triumph Hurdle was a magnificent cavalry charge of 30 runners? It's not so long ago the safety figure for the three principal Novice Hurdles was reduced to from 24 to 20 on safety grounds, with all three races being oversubscribed. Since then, the growth of these races has doubled, and the results are plain to see. Since 2005, the core of Supreme, Ballymore and Triumph has been augmented by the Albert Bartlett, Fred Winter and Mares Novice, with the result that the three first now look like any other Graded Novice Hurdle in the season: empty. Only the Albert Bartlett among the conditions event reaches a double figure field.

I understand the commercial imperatives to stage races for mares, but the key mission of the Festival is to find the fastest horse, not to be dominated by commercialism. It's time for a wholesale review of the Pattern as a whole to prevent horses at the highest level avoiding each other. By so doing, our Novices might be more battle-hardened by the time the Festival comes around, and capable of raising their game against the Irish. 

I'm not an advocate of preserving the Festival in aspic; by all means have a guest race, which could differ each year to give focus to a salient need. But the sport needs to force its highest rated horses to compete against each other, whatever their gender, and the roar that greets flagfall for the Supreme won't be maintained by a small field year after year.

 

We can win our own Foxhunter

How richly deserved to see Britain's winning-most Point-to-Point rider carry off the sport's greatest prize despite a heavy preponderance of professional trainers to compete against. The Foxhunter has largely been eclipsed by professionals in the past few years, so it was gratifying to see someone who chose a path between the flags keep that magnificent trophy at home, and in an amateur fireside. 

Event details

When?

Fixture 2021 Cancelled

Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer

 

 

 

Where?

6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)

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