|Tuesday 20th October 2015|
Are we purely a nation of jumping fanatics?
The Flat may offer all the glitz and glamour associated with top A-List celebs, but as the mud starts to fly so appears a distinct change in racegoer.
As the evenings become ever shorter, there is less desire for many to head out to the races, with online gaming at irishlotto.info and other sites from the comfort of punters' living rooms looking a more attractive option.
Meanwhile, a crack team of National Hunt enthusiasts are preparing for battle - a passion unprecedented in any other sport.
As well as the customary set of binoculars, this stubborn collection of supporters has evolved to bring to the track a true Bear Grylls-esque survival instinct. This involves firm-heeled walking boots to give an edge over top-of-the-ground racegoers, some kind of headgear to focus the mind (preferably knitted) and an impenetrable waterproof layer to conceal their chosen oracle of raceform from the typically extreme elements. All of this would appear an utter nonsense to the summer crowd!
As last season heated up, Festival superstars Faugheen, Vautour and Douvan all took stepping stones towards their respective Cheltenham glories in conditions that would have unquestionably halved Royal Ascot attendances. Given this, one fact still remained, those willing to suffer such inconveniences were fully deserving of their place amongst the punting elite. All of this exclaimed, "I was there!"
Flat enthusiasts will argue that the combination of top-grade pedigree, sheer acceleration of horses and Ryan Moore is what makes their particular discipline much the superior. To be totally honest, based on the latter, it's difficult not to be swayed. However, unless you've stood by the rails in the gloom to see the vague silhouette of a last race winner pass by then you've not lived.
The jumps tracks themselves offer a clear indication into the dynamic nature of the National Hunt sphere, with the unblemished beauty of Cheltenham's equine theatre taking top spot amongst a host of other idiosyncrasies. These include the madness of Towcester's stiff uphill finish, Cartmel seemingly carved out of a dense woodland and Fontwell's figure-of-eight configuration adding yet another key element of appeal.
Crowd reactions are very typically 'jumps'. For example, there would be a gasp at every obstacle when witnessing a display such as Willie Mullins' full-throttle, no messing Un De Sceaux. This would barely be matched on the level, even if witnessing the tightest of photo finishes. Dream Ahead, Bated Breath and Hoof It at Haydock back in 2011 do not quite cut the mustard in comparison to a lickety-split two-mile chaser in the zone.
Whether it be a class 5 at Uttoxeter, a bumper at Sedgefield or a Sunday meeting at Kelso that totally boggles the punting mind, there is little doubt that the annual pilgrimage to Prestbury Park in March is the ultimate endorsement for the jumping code. Thousands upon thousands will head there once again this season. Every one of them will be dreaming that they will end up cheering on a horse they first laid eyes on at a low-grade meeting in mid-November. It doesn't get much better than that!