What got me into racing?

I’ve always been a sports fan from the day I could walk. From Football to Rugby to Cricket and everything in between. But as a child, horse racing never caught my eye. I’d hate it when Grandstand would interrupt something to broadcast a race from Haydock or Sandown, it all looked the same to me at a young age. I had no appreciation for what I was watching and so would wander off outside with a football or a tennis racquet. My friend used to run https://www.radracquets.com/ – and was an avid tennis fan, so the glass-half full side was that I had someone to play with. The only member of my family to have been keen on it was my Grandfather who passed away many years before I was born. Without that influence it was football and cricket that became the sporting passions of my youth.

In the past few years however, horse racing has eclipsed them both. Not immediately at first. I’d watch the ‘big’ races; the Grand National and the Derby, then the odd handicap at a big race meeting, but before long I found myself watching maidens and sellers at Wolverhampton with almost the same zeal. Football isn’t the sport it once was, players are now celebrities rather than sportsmen and, in my opinion, care more about appearing on the front of a newspaper than the back of it. And as a purist there isn’t enough Test matches to keep me interested in cricket for any length of time. Racing however, never stops. The National Hunt season ends, the Flat season begins, old favourites return and a new crop emerges.  It’s impossible to get bored!

Obviously the interest skipped a generation from my Grandfather but has now manifested itself in me and I’m completely converted. Maybe I just didn’t understand it in my early years? It’s not the easiest sport to comprehend after all.  With so many horses, trainers, distances and venues, all over the world,  it can seem overwhelming to someone just finding the sport with no-one around to guide their hand.  This is an area I feel the BHA and even Racing For Change need to address.  Information needs to be more accessible to newcomers. Especially to those wanting to actively participate in the sport, even if that only amounts to having a flutter at the weekend.

But with this I’ve found horse racing rewards patience.  It rewards those who buy their copies of the Racing Post and watch The Morning Line religiously as I now do. And when those small sacrifices are made the ‘Sport of Kings’ gives back much more than it demands.  Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of choosing a football terrace over standing by a parade ring, looking through a race programme for my selection as the  horses are led past,  (not always with the greatest success) and at the breeding of an animal that combines such grace with incredible power.

For me it’s these two things that make it so easy, too easy, to become attached to the chief protagonists. They don’t always have to be the best ones either. I quickly fell for Lough Derg with his front running style and red blinkers. His all out win when off the bridle a long way from home in the Long Walk Hurdle was arresting to someone new to the game and even in defeat he would always give his all.  Exotic Dancer was another I instantly took to heart. Always clearly visible in any race due to his gorgeous bay coat.  And  It was the demise of Sir Robert Ogden’s French import that taught me how painful it can be too, learning of his death after the Aintree Totesport Bowl in 2009 was a bitter pill.

But for each low point there is an equally meaningful high. Watching Sea The Stars weave his way to the win the Arc from an unlikely position 5 furlongs from home with Jim McGrath describing him aptly as, ‘perfection in equine form’, on crossing the line, will live long in the memory. As well as following Cinders and Ashes all of last season knowing he was the Supreme Novice in waiting and to have my opinion vindicated is a feeling that only racing can give.

These are the ups and downs I’ve had to learn to endure for the love of a sport steeped in history. It’s impossible to watch a horse like Frankel destroying Group 1 fields without wanting to know how he came into being. What makes him so much better than the rest?  And where does he rank in comparison with those who came before him? Impossible questions to answer with any great certainty and nothing could be more subjective, but it’s this that’s grabbed my imagination now.

I’d love to sit down with my Grandfather and debate Frankel against Sea Bird II or Kauto Star taking on Arkle over the Gold Cup fences at Cheltenham . The two stand out horses of his era in both codes. Or even the jockeys, a titan like Lester Piggott against the greatest jockey of my era in Frankie Dettori.

Sadly this wasn’t to be. Maybe in years to come I’ll be able to have that debate with a grandchild of my own. Being told about a two year old winning the Royal Lodge Stakes in fine fashion and putting them in their place by showing a recording of Prince Abdullah’s wonder horse doing the very same thing all those years before.

This year saw my first visit’s to the Cheltenham Festival, seeing Sprinter Sacre make the Arkle Chase look like a racecourse gallop, Big Bucks claim a fourth World Hurdle, and Synchronised power up the hill to win the Gold Cup before his ill-fated attempt at the National.  Followed by a trip to Royal Ascot to see Black Caviar, not quite win in the manner I was hoping but a thrilling finish and an ‘I was there’ moment none the less.

It’s said that trainers find it so difficult to retire incase the next superstar is in their juvenile ranks. I guess it’s the same for me? I couldn’t turn my back on racing now, for the threat of not seeing another finish like Pour Moi’s Derby or Wichita Lineman coming from out of the clouds to win the William Hill Handicap Chase is unthinkable. No other sport can promise me so much drama all year round.


[information_box]This article was written by Mark Butcher
Sadly for some this wasn’t written by the former International Test Batsman but nevertheless it is a cracking read, and gives you an idea of how the ‘Sport Of Kings’ can really draw you into its beautiful majesty.

Follow Mark on Twitter @TheGr8WhiteHope[/information_box]
What got you into racing? Let us know how via the comment box below!

Cheltenham ’11 – World Hurdle

Grands Crus

The World Hurdle is regarded as the feature race of Day 3 of the Festival. Some good horses have won this race down the years, including the ill-fated Inglis Drever who won the race on three separate occasions. Paul Nicholls’ Big Bucks aims to repeat the feat of Inglis Drever before him by winning three World Hurdles.

I’m not really one for stats and usually stick to punting on the flat due to me being a time merchant, however a few key stats to adhere to in this event are:

No five-year-old has ever won the World Hurdle.
An Irish trainer has not won the World Hurdle for 16 years.
Horses who finished unplaced on their final start before the World Hurdle have an awful record in the race, and it’s worth following horses in form.

At this distance and class you can usually single out a handful of real contenders along with the bit-part chancers and form usually tends to work out. In recent years Big Bucks’ has dominated the staying division suggesting you can get a half decent staying chaser to revert back over hurdles and dominate due to the staying division not being up to much. This year it looks like Big Buck’s has a real challenge in the David Pipe trained Grands Crus who has put in performances on the clock to shake up the Paul Nicholls inmate.

Cadoudal (FR) (18.0f) — Buck´s (FR) (Le Glorieux (10.1f))
Notes: Starting with the horse this race revolves around, Big Buck’s aims to emulate what Inglis Drever did before him and win three World Hurdles. He has won his two in emphatic style to date but in fairness he hasn’t really been up against anything out of the top drawer. This year looks the same with only one or two with realistic chances, but Grands Crus could be a fly in the big fella’s ointment. Big Bucks has an imperious Cheltenham record and his form at the track reads (71111) and that seventh placed run came over larger obstacles, so over hurdles at the track he remains unbeaten. He is currently a standout 11/10 with VCBet while most other firms have him odds on.

Dom Alco (FR) — Fee Magic (FR) (Phantom Breeze (8.8f))
Notes: A horse I hold in real high regard and have an antepost bet on for this very race albeit at larger odds (25/1), he has always been regarded as a very smart prospect but took a while to acclimatize at Pond House after starting his career in the French provinces. Grands Crus ran a time to put him right in the ballpark of lowering the colours of Big Buck’s when winning the Cleeve Hurdle effortlessly last time out, and the second placed Knockara Beau has since franked the form winning a decent handicap hurdle at Carlisle. David Pipe’s grey comes into the race at the top of his game and will be primed to the absolute minute come the race and a repeat of that Cleeve Hurdle run (he could well have gone faster too) will put him bang there at the line.

Sinndar (IRE) (12.0f) — Mouramara (IRE) (Kahyasi (12.8f))
Notes: Has been somewhat of a nearly horse throughout his career and has now made the switch to running over staying trips having started out over two miles. Willie Mullins’ son of Sinndar has put together back to back victories of late but that has come up against inferior opposition to what he will face in the World Hurdle and although he could run into the places, won’t have the class to serve it up to either Big Buck’s or Grands Crus.

Arzanni — What A Queen (King´s Ride (14.0f))
Notes: Another from the Willie Mullins yard, and looks about best of his runners and those from the Emerald Isle. The Irish haven’t won this race in the last 16 years, and if they were to win it this year it might rest with Fiveforthree who made a pleasing return from a long layoff to score easily over a trip plenty short of his best. A winner at the Cheltenham Festival when landing the Ballymore back in 2008, he will almost certainly relish stepping back up to this trip but questions have to be answered on his ability to handle such a race so soon after coming back from two years off the track. If he is fully sound, and prepared for the World Hurdle (most horses need a rest period of around 6 weeks after coming back from a layoff for the first time) he will be thereabouts in the placings.

Morespeed — History (FR) (Alesso (USA))
Notes: Looks like potentially reverting back to hurdles after not quite living up to the hype over fences, and the last time he was seen over the smaller obstacles was when second to Big Buck’s in this race back in 2009. He has been held by the Paul Nicholls hurdling star on every time they’ve come up against each other and despite his claims to throwing down a big challenge to the placers, on the form he won’t be winning this but could certainly make the frame at a large price. (20/1 StanJames and Totesport).

Solon (GER) (15.0f) — Toowhit Towhee (USA) (Lucky North (USA))
Notes: Could potentially line up here according to the Betfair market (currently available to back at 29/1) but it’s never good trying to second guess Charles Byrnes as you’ll always come off second best. Solwhit is an interesting contender on his form when beating Fiveforthree over 20F at Aintree two years ago but has been exclusively campaigned over two miles since. He ran well over 20F against Hurricane Fly in the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle in December but couldn’t match that runner for pace in a typical Irish jog-and-sprint race. The faster pace of Cheltenham and the longer trip should give him a solid chance of making the frame, and at 33/1 (VCBet) could be worth chucking a couple of quid at, at the price.

Verdict: In what looks a match between Big Bucks and GRANDS CRUS it would be worth taking a chance on the expected improvement of David Pipe’s likeable grey who still remains on the upgrade. Big Buck’s has done fantastically well over hurdles and will be a formidable opponent for all his rivals, but the times of his victories aren’t nothing flash and Grands Crus has every chance of toppling him come March. Of the remainder, it would be worth chancing a small each-way on Fiveforthree at 16/1, and he could well get the best of the remainder if retaining his ability.

1pt win Grands Crus @ 9/4 (Generally)
0.25pt each-way Fiveforthree @ 16/1 (Generally)

Article reproduced from www.cheltenhamtips.co.uk