David Ord reflects on shortage of high-level two-mile hurdlers
Entries came out for the Unibet Champion Hurdle and left David Ord fearful for the future of the two-mile hurdles division.
I don’t want to obsess over the Quality Jump Racing Review Group, or QJRRG for kids.
Last week I addressed their five aims to ‘strengthen the performance of British steeplechase racing at the top of the pyramid’.
Then this week the Unibet Champion Hurdle entries landed. Now, for once, it’s not a domestic problem. If there is an IQJRRG on the other side of the Irish Sea they may need to take a look. But what happened to the two-mile hurdles division? Where is the fresh blood year after year?
In recent seasons, it has dried up.
Feeling flat after Champion Hurdle entries
At least this season we’ve listed the 2021 Sky Bet Supreme winner but, to be fair, Appreciate It is only here because of a minor setback that delayed his rookie chasing campaign until the fall. .
Blue Lord, who would have chased him home when the Festival opened in March but for one last flying fall, is now himself above the fences while those who filled the frame, Ballyadam, For Pleasure (pursuit) and Soaring Glory, did not enter it.
JCB Triumph winner Quilixios is, but he has been beaten three times since his day in the sun last March, including in a Grade Two at Limerick the last time. He’s 25/1 – the same price as Adagio who chased him home in the Triumph.
It’s no challenge for last year’s hurdler novices – or the wondrous defending champion Honeysuckle – but true contenders for the two-mile throne have been rare for some time. The supply chain has been cut.
Then you watch this year’s Sky Bet Supreme.
Constitution Hill, Jonbon, Sir Gerhard and now Dysart Dynamo dominate the market and all four are outstanding prospects. Three of them are also all point-to-point graduates and highly regarded as future hunters by their powerful connections, who in recent years have not been inclined to drag a second season on wood with such horses.
And as for those in the flat…well, the wealth of overseas prices and ring appeal Tattersalls Horses In Training Sales means we no longer see them without the odd, welcome, exception like Tritonic or Saturday’s Warwick winner Stag Horn. And what a shame it is.
It’s inconceivable these days to think that Sheikh Mohammed was aiming for the blue hurdles ribbon, but he did it twice, winning it with Kribensis and Royal Gait (who even wore a distinctive white cap).
The former, trained by Sir Michael Stoute, or just old Michael at the time, was a useful handicapper before being sent to hurdles. Royal Gait, the best stayer in Europe despite winning the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot in the steward’s room.
There’s absolutely no chance he’ll be hurdling these days. Can you imagine Stradivarius in his pomp heading to Kempton on Boxing Day just to see if he fancy a change?
New faces are needed at all levels
But steeple racing needs new blood – at every level – and if there’s a way to get even a trickle of horses through after a wintry stint on the flat, then surely it must. to be explored?
It’s not going to be easy in the current landscape, though.
Just this week, in an interview with Jack Haynes in the Racing Post, George Baker, one of five British coaches with riders in Bahrain this week, issued a stark warning for British racing.
“Unfortunately, more and more owners are considering international options and that’s completely understandable. For economic reasons, we completely understand. We will have to react quickly – it could be a trickle of owners looking to run their horses elsewhere by the minute, but it could well become a tsunami,” he said.
“We have a fantastic product, brilliant racetracks and people racing, but it all comes down to prize money and it’s sad when you run for rosettes and chocolate cake when you can run for gold. money in other jurisdictions.”
That’s around £6,000 to the winner for a novice obstacle at Kempton or Chepstow.
It’s clear that competing with the financial heft of Flat’s riches isn’t the order of the day – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try something.
So what is the solution ?
How about a series of novice horse jumps with a minimum score of, say, 80 on the flat – leading to a valuable finish on one of our top beginner courses?
Istabraq was ranked 85 when he was part of Shadwell’s scatter at Tattersalls July sales in 1996. JP McManus’ card had well and truly been marked by the late John Durkan when he went for 38,000 guineas for the secure – but horses in this bracket are no longer attracted to winter game – not in significant numbers anyway.
Of the four major jump divisions, it’s the two-mile chasers where there’s a real sense of change with season two chasers Shishkin and Energumene gearing up for a clash (or hopefully two) ages in the coming months.
Season two’s remaining hunters were robbed of poster-boy Monkfish by an injury that ended his campaign before it even began, but the Gold Cup ranks look certain to be swollen in the years to come with this golden harvest point to point. recruits.
Things tend to be more stagnant amongst the remaining hurdle runners, intrigue this year has been added by Champ’s long walk and Paddy Powers’ Stayers’ Hurdle left field entry handed over to the talented – but somewhat accident-prone – Asterion Forlonge.
Mid-week the freshman entries for the Dublin Racing Festival were also revealed. There was excitement at Paul Nicholls who was once again aiming for a big Irish prize with Frodo, while Clan Des Obeaux were also very capable plan Bs for the Paddy Power Irish Gold Cup.
The champion trainer is eyeing the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase with Greaneteen and he could be joined on the pitch by Gary Moore’s rising Publisher Du Gite and Jonjo O’Neill’s big year winner Sky Pirate.
It’s refreshing to see – but a more striking statistic is that 90 of the 129 freshman entries for the meeting are either trained by Willie Mullins (52), Gordon Elliott (27) or Henry De Bromhead (11).
The balance of power is very evident right now and the goal must be to provide other connections with more ammunition – not simply to redistribute current wealth.
Despite what we’re repeatedly told, not everything in this game is cyclical, but while there’s no magic wand to wave here, no instant fix, at least conversations are going on .
What do you think should be done to help boost steeplechase racing in Britain? Send your thoughts to racin[email protected]