The recent announcement of the appointment of Jon Pullin as Clerk of the Course at Cheltenham continues a long tradition of choosing former riders in one of the most prestigious roles in British racecourse management. Pullin, a former conditional rider, rode 6 winners from around 130 rides in the late eighties, whilst his predecessor, Simon Claisse rode some 60 Point-to-Point winners. Before that Philip Arkwright was an accomplished amateur during his time in the Army. More recently, Pullin has been Director of Racing at ARC.
The appointment also completes a full refreshing of the senior management team at Cheltenham since Ian Renton took over the reins nearly 8 years ago. At the time, the Jockey Club's centralization programme was mirroring ARC's management structure, where devolved responsibilities were much curtailed. Post Covid, this appears to have continued, with the racecourses under severe restraint in terms of recruitment. However, Renton's team is now dominated by former colleagues from his ARC days: Matthew Foxton-Duffy in marketing, David McKinnon (formerly at Doncaster before moving to Sandown) in Operations, and now Pullin as Clerk.
That the senior roles in both leading racecourse groups are so interchangeable is reassuring that the quality of management is high. Talent will out, you might say.
But what next for Cheltenham? The good news is that prize money levels will revert to pre-pandemic levels from October, in time for the start of the Cheltenham season at the end of that month. Claisse's term at the helm was punctuated by a series of dramas not of his making: foot & mouth, Windy Wednesday that precipitated 9 and 10 race cards on the subsequrent two days, low sun, and the perennial issue of horse fatalities.
It is the lot of any Clerk of Course nowadays to manage equine fatalities, and there is no more difficult place to do so than at Jump racing's highest profile events - the Festival and Grand National. The law of probability says you will incur a fatality. Murphy's Law says the London Bus syndrome will occur under the greatest media spotlight: that is, they will all come one after another.
This happened in the nineties when 10 horses were killed at the Festival in unrelated incidents, and again more recently with half that number. It is a Clerk's most vexing issue to manage press comment surrounding this when editors are baying for a bad news story about racing's greed getting the better of its safety management.
The Cheltenham programme is well developed nowadays. Claisse was a significant contributor toward the selection of races for the fourth day, and a further 4 races have been added subsequently. Focus should surely be on growing the impact of the October and November fixtures, and revisiting the thorny problem of the two anticlimactic days in April.
So, plenty to do.
Fixture 2021 Cancelled
Look out for 2022 dates later in the summer
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)