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Saturday, 12 November 2011

Crus-ing into the Jump Season

Grands Crus makes the weight count at Cheltenham yesterday in the 2m 4f Novice Chase
As I settle down, cup of tea on my little living-room table, to The Morning Line, I’ve finally got a chance to put electronic pen to LCD-projected paper and recollect some of my finest memories of a memorable flat-racing summer.
Back in March at Cheltenham, I met a chap called Simon Hawes for the first time.  Our mutual friend @paolobow introduced us just before Ruby Walsh powered Big Buck’s to another World Hurdle (leaving yesterday’s triumphant Novice Chaser Grands Crus in his wake) and we jumped around a town-centre pub in celebration at Buck’s’s victory (apostrophe carnage!), spilling Guinness and chucking phones around the room, quickly forming a burgeoning friendship built on mutual respect.
Little did I know that when we met at the track the next day, I nearly threw that new found amity away with the kind of disregard normally given to a losing betting slip.  Discussing the national hunt code of horse racing, I made a throwaway comment that went thus: “Ah lads.. it’s ALL about jump racing.. the flat really doesn’t have much for me.. I just don’t see what the fuss is about!”
To Hawes, it was as though I had not just insulted the facial hair sprouting unkemptly from just under his bottom lip; I might as well have taken a pair of tweezers to it and pulled each wiry black hair out, one by one.
@paolobow later told me that he had to hold Simon back: “just leave it, Si,” he said. “Not now.”
OK.  I was wrong.  I made a mistake.  As I always say: that’s why they put rubbers on the end of pencils.  I had, of course, enjoyed the flat in the past, but I just found the jumps more exciting, and I preferred the characters – the older horses like Denman and Kauto Star, who keep coming back after a decade of unabated efforts.  The risks they seem to take are higher, leaping over hurdles and fences into open ditches and soft, cold, winter turf.  I shouldn’t, however, have been so dismissive.
I’ve spent the summer reading up on the history of the flat, the prestige of the classics, the majesty of Longchamp and the pedigree and bloodstock associated with siring the next generation of thoroughbred racehorses.  It all begain with three original animals, the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian and the Godolphin Barb, probably over four centuries ago, and modern studs like Coolmore and  the Juddmonte Farms continue to produce the goods to this day.
I still think the National Hunt season holds more personal excitement for me, and I relished layed Cue Card yesterday with liabilities to the tune of £170, backing Grands Crus and roaring Tom Scudamore home as he made the weight advantage count and proved his class in the move from hurdles to fences,.  But now at least I can say to Simon, Paolo and the rest of you that I have been educated, enraptured and enriched by opening up my heart and my wallet to the flat, and I’m already looking forward to seeing the return of the speed demons in 2012.
Five Personal highlights/memories from the 2011 flat season:
1.   Having backed Frankel in the Guineas and lumped on at odds-against in the Duel on the Downs, seeing him in the flesh at very close quarters in the Ascot parade ring and winners’ enclosure took my breath away and earned me not one, but two photograph appearances in the Racing Post.
2.   Going to HQ for the first time since I was a nipper for my Nan’s 80th birthday party, and promptly losing a monkey. “All part and parcel of a day at the track” as Simon put it.
3.   The thought of Goldikova and Galileo going at it! What a sire that beast is.. I want him to wine and dine Goldi, treating her with the respect she deserves, but really Gal, hold nothing back when you get down to making the beast with two backs.
4.   John Gosden’s utter class in the aftermath of Rewilding’s death at Ascot.  I was on the Godolphin colt that day and it was very clear that Gosden had more concern for the fallen horse than for his own triumphant Nathaniel.
5.   Watching many a YouTube video of Black Caviar tearing through the “competition” down under.  She is an awesome animal, who glides around the course like a big cat: stealth of a panther, speed of a cheetah.. I sound like the theme tune to the cartoon Bravestarr, but I don’t care and we will all be in for a treat if she comes up this way next year (although not if she starts at 1-33!)

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