Tanya Stevenson's Racing UK Blog
|Friday 8th November 2013|
The 2013 Flat season had one defining moment to which I will be forever thankful that I was there to witness it live.
No words did justice to the atmosphere of Estimate’s win in the Ascot Gold Cup. The heartfelt warmth towards Her Majesty as all within the stands, and no doubt everyone at home, willed Estimate and Ryan Moore to cross the line in victory was the best advertisement for the sport. Racing’s most treasured patron had enjoyed a day to remember and many were there to celebrate with her.
The hope is those who witnessed this moment relayed not only the enormity, emotion and spirit of the day but also how much they loved it so that it encouraged friends and colleagues to sample a day of racing. We need them to have done.
What I admire is that punters and racing enthusiasts have the most incredible tolerance levels. They are virtually immune to scandalous revelations, late withdrawals, and wildly obscure results.
And to think, their hard-earned cash is being invested which when recycled helps fund the sport through the levy and, tentatively, through media rights. Without any demand to watch the sport from punters and racing enthusiasts the premium on media rights wouldn’t be so high.
Rather than regurgitate all that has been discussed regarding the Mahmood Al Zarooni case, the paragraph above is a message to all those in the industry and it needs to be repeated regularly. Why? Judging by the continuous fall of racing’s share of the over-the-counter business in betting shops, the tolerance threshold has been reached as other sports are proving just too tempting for the punters’ coin.
For me, the Flat season never ignited in 2013. The flame occasionally flickered, but no more. Considering it was the year following Frankel’s retirement, however, the sport did well.
Mother Nature conjured up every conceivable scenario at the courses this season. With snow in March, it simply highlighted the spluttering start to the sport’s connoisseur code.
Doncaster on Friday March 22nd went off without a hitch, but the white fluffy flakes duly fell that night and the Lincoln Handicap had to wait eight days before stalls opened.
Levitate obliged in the popular mile handicap at 3.05, however thirty minutes later at Musselburgh Top Notch Tonto finished fourth on his seasonal debut, at the time he was just another runner in a class 2 mile handicap!
Of the five Classic winners Sky Lantern wins my heart. Even though the quintet were all campaigned liberally, she could, and perhaps should, have won all five of the Group Ones she graced.
The debate surrounding the Falmouth Stakes in which Elusive Kate kept the race, gave evidence that more intriguing matters happened off course than on it this year. Sky Lantern’s Nassau Stakes run at Goodwood run was a case of ‘if only’ as gaps closed at crucial times. The record was well and truly put straight at Newmarket in the Sun Chariot.
Joseph O’Brien also broke a record in becoming the winning-most jockey in a season in Ireland. He also helped his father Aidan bag a Classic in Britain when Leading Light won the St Leger.
Declaration Of War may have fluffed his lines in the Lockinge Stakes behind impressive Champion Stakes winner Farhh, but he more than made up for it in the Queen Anne Stakes and Juddmonte International and was edged out of the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Johnny Murtagh missed the Breeders’ Cup courtesy of a ban on Champions’ Day. Reflecting back though, even by his high standards, he couldn’t have dreamt of a better season. Although his best friend Frankie Dettori will want to erase 2013 from the memory very quickly, December 31st can’t come quick enough!
January 1st and beyond promises jewels aplenty for Dettori with the awesome Arc winner Treve being the biggest reason 2014 holds much promise.
Treve’s emphatic and breath-taking display at Longchampcemented the fact that 2013 belongs to the fairer sex. Moonlight Cloud, Sky Lantern, Estimate, Vorda and Miss France all headline acts. Fingers crossed they all return for 2014.
The two-year-old colts division is wide open, but the Racing Post Trophy was a joy to behold as the supplemented Kingston Hill showed an exceptional turn of foot to glide past his rivals. Other than Australia he’s the horse which gives me most to look forward to next season.
Brian Ellison can vouch for the supplementing process. Top Notch Tonto more than vindicated the £70,000 fee just to run him in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes, won by Olympic Glory. I wonder if he would have won the Cambridgeshire had it come up soft? I don’t think he’ll be running in the Royal Mile at Musselburgh in March 2014!
Cambridgeshire day will live long in the memory for punters and bookmakers alike. The first four favourites went in, Pricewise, and a few columnists on here, tipped Educate to spread joy across the land for long suffering punters. However it hasn’t all been one way, at Doncaster last month Morning Post provided a 100-1 shocker, and in the Cesarewitch Scatter Dice flew home at 66-1.
Then outsiders struck at the highest level, too. Jwala landed the Nunthorpe at 40-1.
With the theme in mind of the David overturning Goliath, Edward Lynam has the ‘Power.’ He has Sole and Slade, plus many others too, including Viztoria. A stable packed with sprinting prowess, and one which counts Ascot very close to his heart. The Powers, the owners that is, will be back in 2014, and don’t we need them. The owners ooze charisma making you smile before they even opening their mouths.
The sprinting division will be shorn of Lethal Force and Reckless Abandon, who are retired to the paddocks. Their visit in to the limelight was all too fleeting, which is a major reason why the Flat is not as adored as the winter code.
Lethal Force gave Adam Kirby a season he’ll never forget, while the same can be said for James Doyle with Al Kazeem and Rizeena. Doyle gained the coveted retainer for Prince Khalid Abdullah and he’ll be hoping Kingman is all that he promises to be and more come next season.
The exuberance of youth - it’s a bonus when you can latch on to an apprentice having a breakthrough year, and Oisin Murphy, Connor King, Jason Hart, Thomas Brown and Joey Haynes to name but a few are all hoping to be our stars of the future, and in the not-so-distant one in some cases.
Other than Estimate, my highlight is Australia going into the winter as ante-post favourite for the 2000 Guineas and Derby, I do hope he winters well as I can’t wait for everyone to cheer on Australia!
On November 9, the 2013 flat season will draw to a close and despite it’s failings I’ll be counting down the days to Lincoln Day at Donny, 29 March 2014!
On June 11 the sport endured a huge loss with the passing of Sir Henry Cecil. It is a gaping void, which can never be filled. He was a true gentleman, a genius trainer, someone to admire and always to aspire to be.
Off the track racing failed to come to terms, or perhaps even the realisation, of the damage caused by small fields, an untold number of odds-on favourites, dwindling numbers of on-course bookmakers and shrinking turnover in betting shops.
There is an acknowledgement that smaller fields in racing are on the rise, which was blamed on our freakishly warm summer. My observation would be that racing should use data far more and concentrate on specific issues with the fixture list, rather than sweeping generalisations across every level or tier of racing.
For instance, over 30% of handicaps this year have had fewer than eight runners - perhaps there are too many handicaps? That is one example, and I’ve been researching all races at each of our flat venues and I just hope the relevant parties have been as well.
This year has highlighted that politics is the sport’s biggest Achilles’ heel. There are too many factions with a supposed entitlement to have their say. Once they have proclaimed what should be done, it is either carried out half-heartedly or there is appeasement, which leads to tinkering and the sport ends up worse than before. There are also too many willing to debate, discuss or speculate but not change for the real good, they just want a peaceful tenure.
Here then is a plea. Racing of whatever code is always a fabulous spectacle. Those that head the industry have now got to nurture what they have, they shouldn’t be afraid of mistakes, instead accept and hold their hands up when they happen and at the same time find ways and initiatives to make a racecourse the first port of call if someone wants a day out. That’s it.