Did you enjoy Christmas? Mine could not have gone any better. Never mind the presents and the turkey, I’m talking about the 12 days of racing that were joyful and triumphant.
Look at what we’ve had in the past couple of weeks: splendour and fun at Ascot; a Boxing Day for the ages at Kempton when a TV audience of a million saw 70 minutes of sport that left them wanting more — and that’s precisely what they got at Chepstow the next day.
It was actually Moore, Moore, Moore, as Nassalam’s rout of the Coral Welsh Grand National field provided the cornerstone for a remarkable Gary Moore treble. Then it was on to Ireland, where Galopin Des Champs produced a display to earn comparisons with the legendary Kauto Star.
Still the sport kept delivering. High-class performances at Newbury, not least by Captain Teague in the Challow Hurdle, then New Year’s Day at Cheltenham with a 33,000 crowd (2,000 of whom were kids) roaring themselves hoarse for Rachael Blackmore and Bob Olinger.
I feel it’s important to highlight all this because, in the aftermath, much of what I’ve read has been laced with negativity. It doesn’t take long for the life to be sapped from you when criticism is rife.
Nassalam ridden by Caoilin Quinn was triumphant in The Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase at Chepstow
Gary Moore, pictured at Kempton Park, after Nassalam had won at Chepstow, with Editeur du Gite also winning at the Desert Orchid Chase
It was a historic day for moore, with a mud covered Caoilin Quinn pictured celebrating his win
Another important point to make is that I’m not naive. Racing has many issues and I’m fully aware of what they are.
A row over media rights and prize money could be about to explode between racecourses and trainers; small fields are an ongoing issue.
Then — and I highlighted this in my first column last August — invasive affordability checks for punters hang over the sport like the sword of Damocles. More than 103,000 people have signed a petition to stop them being implemented.
Bet of the day: Ile Atlantique is set to race in the Grade One Lawlor’s of Naas Novice Hurdle
But hang on, every sport has problems. I read a detailed piece by Mike Atherton over Christmas about cricket’s issues; it’s the same for rugby, football, golf, tennis — but none of them are in the same league as racing when it comes to beating itself up.
Spreading negativity, rather than accentuating positives, could have a devastating effect on racing. For instance, Premier Racing — an initiative from the British Horseracing Authority to showcase the best 170 meetings each year — seemed to have been written off before it started on New Year’s Day.
This isn’t a revolution, just one step — no more — in the right direction. A step we’ve been waiting for and incapable of taking for a long time with racing’s hamstrung power structure. It’s in all our interests for it to work.
To make an analogy, it’s been like a Premier League club wanting a new stadium but not focusing on its team. Racing has been like Everton, if you will. Sean Dyche is now getting things in order on the pitch and Everton will reap the benefits when they leave Goodison next year.
Quinn was also seen collecting his trophy following his successful ride on Nassalam
Captain Teague (right) also claimed victory at the Challow Novices’ Hurdle at Newbury
My realistic short-term wish for Premier Racing would be to make the racegoer our sport’s top priority. Atherton wrote that the prominence of media rights in cricket meant ‘the live spectator is now much lower down on the list of administrators’ priorities’. Racing can’t afford to do that.
I was encouraged when Jockey Club CEO Nevin Truesdale told me the food offering would improve on courses. Variety and value for money are what every family are after; Musselburgh had a gourmet deli promoting local produce on New Year’s Day. Bang on trend.
York sell Ged Bell’s homemade pork pies — made 500 yards from where mile races start — and they are highly recommended at £4. Hereford and Newton Abbot are two provincial courses that make a point of supporting local businesses. It can be done.
What must stop being done are the bag searches, looking for picnics, and the confiscation of food. This is a terrible look.
Goodwill is everything and any person who is having sandwiches or fruit taken from them is unlikely to want to return.
The new year should bring new optimism, so let’s get the basics right and build from there. Horses in the paddock on time, in racecard order. All horses have to parade ahead of the day’s big race, letting the public get close to the stars of the show, both equine and human.
Names on the jockeys’ backs might help the racegoer. Races going off on time would transform things for the viewer.
Meanwhile, Galopin Des Champs, ridden by Paul Townend, won The Savills Chase at Leopardstown
Fans flocked to the races at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day with a crowd of 33,000 fans in attendance
All simple things that can make a huge difference. This is our drive and I’ve seen encouraging signs in the last few weeks.
‘Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals’, so the saying goes.
Racing in this country has failed to get those basics right for so long. Put down those foundations, then we can create a Premier offering. Christmas showed we already have a fabulous product.
Ed Chamberlin is a Sky Bet Ambassador