Is it just me, dear reader, or were the Guineas races last weekend wholly unsatisfactory?
First, we get the next Pegasus, St Nicholas Abbey, sent off at even money in the boys' classic and getting well beaten; then we get the farce of the girls' race where not only does (probably) the best horse finish sixth due to the state of the ground, but a French-style stewards' enquiry amends the placings for the first time in a Classic since... well, I've no idea when the last time that happened. Has it ever happened?!
Let me tell you what is wrong with flat racing, a sport that I have to concede is doing everything in its power to self-destruct.
The three points below are key in what Racing For Change should be considering. All were typified in the weekend's Guineas races, and all appear to be ignored by that aforementioned nobly sentimented but hopelessly inept committee.
1. Flat racing has no narrative.
The National Hunt racing calendar is a thing of beauty: the season runs for around six months, from late Autumn to early Spring. There are occasional big pots in those early months, and the first serious prizes are awarded at Christmas, fully halfway through the season. Of course, as we all know, everything leads to Cheltenham (and, to a lesser degree, Aintree and Punchestown).
Now imagine running the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the Arkle in October. And the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup in November. Preposterous, right?
Well, that's exactly what the flat calendar does by having the 1000 and 2000 Guineas races in early May, and the Oaks and Derby in early June. It's ridiculous. Completely anachronistic, and totally irrelevant in today's racing society.
On Saturday, St Nicholas Abbey was sent off at evens to win the 2000 Guineas. He will probably prove to be the best horse in that race, and his Derby chance is enhanced in defeat, rather than diminished, in my book.
His trainer went on the record as saying, "All mine will improve for the run". Meaning I can't get them race fit at home (very few try, and even fewer succeed in this), and the Guineas is waaaaaay too early. Fencing Master, my pick, finished just behind St Nick, and the same comments apply.
It would NEVER happen in National Hunt racing, and if Racing For Change is serious, then it HAS to address the anachronisms - the antiquated, outmoded ludicrosies - of the flat racing calendar. And who cares who gets upset about it?! Common sense MUST prevail, or the stuffed shirt brigade whose tea might get spilt by such a manoeuvre will find themselves presiding over a minority sport with dwindling investment and interest from our increasingly ADD society.
2. Flat racing is not 'of the people'.
The arms race between Godolphin and Ballydoyle in recent years, which has already seen its own cold war, and now has some sort of entente cordiale, has done little to ignite the passions of everyman. Yes, we should be grateful for the huge investments made by the sheiks and the Irish currency traders and former bookmakers.
But, let's be clear: when the same owners win all the big races year after year after year, it just gets boring. And when the majority of those big pot victors are shipped off to stud at the first opportunity, flat racing becomes ever more disposable. Just like its champions.
No Denmans here. Nor any Kauto Stars. Heck, barely a Binocular amongst this year's expected runners.
Sure, there's the occasional Yeats to lift the soul, but these admirable and amiable plodders have limited stud value aside, funnily enough, from their utility to siring National Hunt champions of the future.
When a 'common person' does win a big prize, flat racing shoots itself in the foot. Actually, in the case of Noel Wilson and Jacqueline Quest, flat racing more machine gunned its entire leg and then machete'd said leg off... at the neck!
Here was a bittersweet story to warm the cockles of the most granite hearted individual. Wilson is in a wheelchair and requires round the clock assistance. He is also black. (There, I've said it). He ran a construction firm in Germany in the heady Auf Wiedersehn, Pet days of the early nineties.
But in June 1996, he was attacked whilst using a phone box by neo-Nazi's in Brandenburg. Wilson ran for his car, still pursued, and in the ensuing chase, the scumbags hurled a lump of concrete at the windscreen of his Jaguar and he veered off the road and crashed into a tree. He's been in a chair ever since.
After his wife, Jacqueline (hence the horse's name) died in 2000, from cancer, Wilson decided he would seek assisted suicide as he no longer had anything to live for.
In the decade since that sad loss, Wilson's only apparent shafts of light come from the horses he owns, the best of which - prior to Sunday - was the remarkable dual Royal Ascot winner (in the same week!), Baddam, trained at the time by 'The Windmill' himself, Mick Channon. (Bizarrely, Channon was also recently a victim of a horrific car accident, in which his friend, Tim Corby, was killed).
Then, unlikely glory. Jacqueline Quest, royally tonked by eight lengths in the Nell Gwyn by my 1000 Guineas punt, Music Show, wins the race on the near side (which easily won the race against the centre of the track) and fends off Special Duty, the 9/2 favourite, by a nose in the process. She is trained by 'Sir' Henry Cecil, and pays 66/1.
The klaxon sounds, alerting all to an enquiry by stewards. Channel 4's only intelligent presenters, Jim McGrath and John Francome, immediately declare it borderline impossible for the result to be changed.The replays bear this out: yes, Jacqueline Quest wanders off a true line, and takes Special Duty, herself lugging towards the 'winner', with her.
There was the slightest of touches, costing neither horses nor riders any momentum, and it looked to be an academic discussion between the beaks and the jocks. Indeed, at the point of market suspension when the result of the enquiry was announced, Jacqueline Quest was still trading at 1-5 on Betfair.
In a decision that beggared belief from this scribe's perspective, the placings were reversed, and a tearful underdog who was destined to have his day was usurped by a blue blood trainer and a royal owner (Prince Khalid Abdullah).
It was truly a case of 'if ain't broke, don't fix it', and the stewards decided to fix it. The only sporting parallel I can think of is if, say, England were playing Brazil in the final of the World Cup, and England are winning 1-0 (just imagine!) in the 90th minute.
Brazil are attacking but England look to be doing just enough defensively to hold them at bay. Then, from nowhere, Robinho fires the ball at point blank range and it hits Rio Ferdinand on the arm. His arm is down at the time, and he can do nothing to react.
The ref wavers, ponders, then points to the spot. Penalty to Brazil.
He shouldn't have given the penalty. Ferdinand was innocent. Nobody - not even the Brazilians - would have especially berated the decision not to award a penalty. But penalty he did give.
My point is that nobody would have batted an eyelid if the placings remained unaltered. So quite why the buffoons that run the 'sport of kings' (the clue may be in that title!) persist in devaluing their product in the collective eye of the very market they ostensibly aspire to attract, is beyond me.
Racing For Change? Not in the flat game, chaps...
[Incidentally, the Noel Wilson story is a very interesting one, and there's considerably more to it than outlined above. There's some stuff online - I found an old Daily Mail article about his legal battle with Channel 4 - that makes for a decent read.]
3. Flat racecourse irrigation makes punting a lottery
Why does racing exist? Simple. To put taxes in government coffers and enable the common man and woman (i.e. you and me) to try to win a few quid and entertain themselves in the process.
So why, in this information age, are we left completely at the whimsical mercy of a few 'turfologists' who insist on buggering about with tracks to produce unsatisfactory outcomes?!
Newmarket, HQ of flat racing, and the longest straight track in the country. The 1000 Guineas, one of its flagship races, run over a mile and contested this year by seventeen exciting lady prospects.
But the result was a farce. The winner, as I've said, was beaten eight lengths by Music Show last time. This time, Music Show was beaten six lengths, meaning a turnaround of fully fourteen lengths.
Music Show was clear best of those horses that raced on the far side, beating the equally fancied (both 7/1 shots) Rumoush by three quarters of a length, with the remainder five lengths and more behind. That gives the form of the 'sub-race' a very robust and reliable look.
The first five home were drawn 4-1-2-6-7. The last five home were drawn 10-12-5-13-17.
Jacqueline Quest was box 4; Special Duty box 1; Music Show box 15.
Who do you suppose was the best horse?! And yes, I am talking through my pocket. Having backed Music Show to win, I then decided she was a place certainty and steamed into the 15/8 for a place. I did my brains.
How can it be? It would NEVER happen in jump racing.
Listen, you tweed-jacketed, flat-capped, turf-prodding, soil alchemists... stop p155ing about with the racetracks and let the horses take their bloody chances!!!
Flat racing will continue to be a minority sport, much less loved and commensurately less supported than the jumping hemisphere, so long as these irregularities exist.
We must change the racing calendar dramatically to create a sense of sequence and of horsey hierarchy and of suspense and of anticipation and of conclusion; we must find ways to encourage new owners to the party, and not treat them like second class citizens when they gatecrash the VIP lounge; and we have to stop tampering with irrigation, with stalls positioning, with moving running rails, with false declarations of the going.
Only when those three points have been addressed, can flat racing truly look forward to a brighter future.
These are my thoughts, and now - with my soap box safely tucked away (for the time being) - I'd like to ask, what are yours?
The comments box welcomes all as VIP's. There is no track or draw bias. And the natural meter of the narrative will be dictated by you!