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Then and Now – February

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    February Week One

    Or to be precise, the week that started on Monday January 29th in 1990 – and it was one in which winter weather caused the loss of several fixtures, most significantly on Saturday, when Chepstow, Sandown and Stratford were all abandoned.

    But the meetings that did go ahead, weren’t without interest and probably saw more future stars running midweek than we can expect from the equivalent fixtures this year. On Monday at Plumpton, a modest 2m 4f handicap chase was won by Multum In Parvo, his second win of the month, having scored in a 2M chase at Towcester ten days earlier. This was his first run on genuine soft ground and he relished it, winning by 30 lengths, with the form book comment ‘very easily’.

    That win came off a mark of 103, reduced by the 3lb claim of Norman Williamson for trainer John Edwards. Two starts later he finished a close second in the Cathcart Chase at the Festival, which saw his mark rise to 134. Back at Cheltenham in November, he won the Mackeson Gold Cup off that mark, but sadly that was his last success. He ran in a valuable intermediate chase at Ascot under a penalty seven days after Cheltenham, finished lame, and never recovered his form when raced again after a long layoff.

    Then on Tuesday at Leicester, another future Cheltenham scorer ran out a wide margin winner of a Listed novice hurdle – yes really, a Listed race at Leicester on a Tuesday afternoon. Regal Ambition (Pipe, Scudamore) made all to collect a £4k first prize by 25 lengths, and he wasn’t just beating trees, as the useful Danny Harrold (Pitman, Pitman) finished second, getting 8lbs from the winner.

    Regal Ambition had already won novice hurdles by 30L at Worcester and by 15L at Chepstow, and his next run after Leicester saw him run away with the Sun Alliance Hurdle at Cheltenham by 12L. His only defeat that season came at Cheltenham in December, when he lost a photo finish to Remittance Man. After Cheltenham, he was sent on an ill-fated trip to the USA for an International Hurdle run in Kentucky, which offered a first prize almost six times what he’d collected at Cheltenham. He broke down and was pulled up, and only reappeared two years later with a US owner/trainer, ignominiously running on dirt tracks in a $4,000 claiming race and a $5,000 allowance race, again pulled up lame in the latter. Clear evidence that Yanks have zero feeling for the sport.

    A quiet week gives me space to comment on something that has struck me as I’ve scoured the results from 1990, which is the extent to which the sport changes, but the names remain the same. Take the card at Windsor on the Wednesday of this week. The winning jockeys that afternoon were:

    Peter Hobbs – brother of Philip who trained that winner. Peter became a Jockey Club Inspector of Courses
    Mark Perrett – later married Amanda Harwood and now part of their training business

    Mark Pitman – tried his hand at training, not sure what he’s doing nowadays

    Luke Harvey – well we all know where he ended up.

    Mark Richards – had a successful career as a racing TV presenter in Hong Kong

    Jamie Railton – a leading man in the field of preparing and showing horses at the major bloodstock sales. If you don’t want to spend two or three days displaying your horse to time wasters, or you can’t spare the staff to spend that long in Newmarket or Doncaster, you send the horse to Jamie and he does it all for you and takes a commission on the sale.

    And it’s just as true in Ireland, with the winners at Naas that same day featuring the names Mullins, Taaffe, Swan, O’Grady and Mouse Morris. The Mullins team appear to have missed a trick that afternoon, as future star Minorettes Girl won the closing bumper by 15 lengths, but a 12/1 SP suggests they didn’t know what they had – Mullins other runner in the race started 9/4 fav and finished seventh!

    Finally on the only surviving NH meeting on Saturday, at Wetherby. No stars on show here, but the novice hurdle was a prime example of how different that type of race was thirty years ago. It was won by Carbisdale, a 20/1 winner by four lengths in a field of twenty five (yes, 25) – as an oddity, Mark Johnston trained the third, Simply Perfect. Carbisdale didn’t win again over hurdles, but had a successful chasing career, winning three novice races and three handicaps. One of those wins came in a four runner 3M 2F handicap at Doncaster, a race the like of which you’ll never see in 2020.

    This was a minor event, run for a first prize of £5,600, but the top weight was Docklands Express, running off a mark of 169 and carrying 12 stone. The other three were all out of the handicap, Carbisdale by 6lbs, Dublin Flyer by 9lbs and Polar Region by 15lbs, so they all carried 10 stone. I suspect that Docklands Express would have been running at Sandown if that meeting had been on, but the program then had the flexibility that allowed high rated horses to run in lesser races. Nowadays, a chaser rated 169 would be very unlikely ever to be seen in a handicap, apart from Newbury in November or Aintree in April.

    That week in 1990, there were three AW flat meetings – now there are nine. Which is a pretty good clue as to why we don’t get twenty five runners in a novice hurdle any more!

    Result of the Week

    Friday Feb 2nd Kelso Rutherford Chase 2M 1F
    Raise An Argument R Supple 7/2

    Trained by Jonjo O’Neill

    Not an important race, but a chance to tell the story of a remarkable horse. He began racing in Ireland as a 4-y-old, where he was a multiple winner over hurdles and had scored in a Navan novice chase shortly before he came to England as an 8-y-old, to be trained by Monica Dickinson for owner John Poynton. He won four times for her, the highlight being success in the valuable and important Timeform Chase at Haydock, ridden by Jamie Osborne.

    When Mrs D retired he moved to Jonjo, still then training at Penrith in Cumbria. The Kelso race was his only win for that yard and by the 1991/92 season, he had been ‘retired’ to the point to point stable run by the Docker family. He won two hunter chases at Stratford for them in 1992, aged 13, and also finished second in the Liverpool Foxhunters.

    But he’d only just got started, as he went on winning in points up to the age 17, and finished second several times in the spring of 1997, as an 18-year old. One horse, fourteen seasons of racing, and I imagine he gave a great deal of pleasure to a lot of people. Everyone that starts out as an owner (me included!) would love to have one like him.

    Video of the Week

    A total cheat, as the race took place in 1995, but having mentioned Dublin Flyer above, I couldn’t resist another viewing of this amazing win over the National fences under 12 stone, giving two stone to the runner-up. A grand example of the type of old fashioned chaser rarely seen these days, and one owned and bred by one of the generation of NH supporters that were badly damaged by the Lloyds of London crash in the early 90’s.

    Venture to CognacVenture to Cognac
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    Good stuff yet again Alan.

    • Total Posts 206

    Interesting read… keep em coming :good:

    Ex RubyLightEx RubyLight
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    Excellent stuff, mate. How come Multum in Parvo’s name came into my mind just two days ago?

    Maybe, I just had one of those 90s flashbacks without noticing it.

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    Great to watch that race again.

    Quelle FarceQuelle Farce
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    Outstanding thread content.

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    Of course the other reason we don’t see 25 runner hurdles in Britain any more is the reduced maximum field sizes at our courses.

    Newcastle had 18 horses declared for today’s amateur riders hurdle so they have spilt it into two divisions. Warwick did similar with 20 entrants in their novice hurdle recently as have several other courses. Even Cheltenham have reduced the maximum fields in some of their festival handicaps.

    And yet Irish courses cope with 25-30 runner hurdles.

    Great read as always. Look forward to the next instalment.

    • Total Posts 1251

    “And yet Irish courses cope with 25-30 runner hurdles.”

    True; however, the jockeys in these races always split the race up into three divisions by themselves.


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    :good: :good: :good:

    Quelle FarceQuelle Farce
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    Gladiateur’s post deserves a :bowdown: emoticon.

    • Total Posts 3073

    February Week Two

    I must have had some time off owing to me, as my diary tells me that I went racing five days in a row from Tuesday Feb 6th, 1990 – Warwick, Ascot, Wincanton and two days at Newbury. And it’s very much a recurring theme that at those first three meetings, staged from Tuesday to Thursday, I saw two future Gold Cup winners, two future Grand National winners and one all time great.

    On Tuesday, Party Politics made his breakthrough over fences, winning a sixteen runner novice chase over 2m 4f at Warwick at 40/1, by 10L and 20L. They went 9/2 the field in that novice, the longest priced favourite on a seven race card. In most novice chases now, a 9/2 shot would be an outsider!

    On Wednesday, Ascot saw Royal Athlete win the Reynoldstown, and a young handicapper called Cool Ground finish well beaten in the feature 3m handicap. One of the reasons I had gone to Ascot was to watch Desert Orchid carry top weight in that race, but he was withdrawn because David Elsworth thought the ground was too soft to ask the horse to give two stone to most of the others. He had a point as the race was run more than a minute slower than the standard. But his absence left one horse on 10-6 and all the others on 10st and out of the handicap by various amounts.

    The beaten favourite in the Reynoldstown was the Gordon Richards trained, Carrick Hill Lad, who arrived at Ascot off the back of eight straight wins, the last five over fences. Royal Athlete confirmed the form by beating him again in a novice chase at the Scottish National meeting, the only time Carrick Hill Lad was beaten in a chase at Ayr.

    And so to Thursday at Wincanton, which attracted a bigger crowd than usual as Desert Orchid was re-routed to the Racing In Wessex Chase. There was also extra press interest, as this was the week in which he was given top weight of 12-2 in the National, announced as a probable runner, then as an unlikely runner, before finally being taken out of consideration after a hurried meeting of trainer and owners in the bar after he’d won this race by 20L. Those of us present had the opportunity to laugh at the non specialist media who turned out at Wincanton to film the horse and/or talk to connections. There were two other greys in the field, who both came into the paddock ahead of the star, and got the cameramen and photographers running round in circles.

    The final future star was Garrison Savannah, who trounced 18 rivals in the 3m 1f novice chase by 25L as the 2/1 favourite. His jumping that afternoon was spectacular and I was sure I’d seen a potential Cheltenham winner – an opinion that cost me a considerable sum when he was beaten later in the month by Party Politics! More on that in Week Four.

    In his later career, after the glory of his Gold Cup win, Grand National second and the subsequent fifteen month injury layoff, Garrison Savannah became a Wincanton regular, running six times in conditions chases at the course, including three times on this same card in the Racing In Wessex Chase and twice in the Jim Ford Challenge Cup.

    Neither of those conditions chases still survives at Wincanton, and indeed they represent a type of race that has almost completely disappeared from the program. Various things have contributed to their loss – bookie pressure for each way races – payments to the courses reduced for races with fewer than eight runners – trainers seemingly less willing to run their good horses as often etc.

    But one element not mentioned often, if at all, is that under current BHA race planning rules, any such race would have to be run as a Class 2 contest. And a Class 2 weight for age chase (other than a novice chase) must offer a minimum of £22,500 total prize money. Not an easy sum for a rural track to fund at a midweek fixture. Wincanton still offers chases with good prize money, but they are all handicaps nowadays.

    Result of the Week

    Monday Feb 5th Wolverhampton Handicap Chase 3M 1F

    Rubika R Dunwoody 14/1

    Trained by Stan Mellor

    Watching the two runners in the Trevor Hemmings colours fight out the finish of the 3M chase at Sandown on Saturday, made this the obvious choice. Rubika was one of two horses sourced from France by Stan Mellor for this new owner. Neither won in their first season, but in the first five months of 1990, they won seven races between them and from those modest beginnings came an owner that has contributed a great deal in the thirty years since.

    Rubika won that Wolverhampton handicap off a mark of 100, but continued to progress, with a second to Bonanza Boy in the Midlands National in March 1991, and a win in the four mile chase at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day 1992. He also ran twice in the Grand National, the first of many representatives in those colours. The other horse was called Astre Radieux, and he was the first to win, but it was Rubika that made the bigger impact on his owner, as I can testify from personal experience, because I had a horse with Mellor later in 1990.

    Sadly for Stan, Hemmings soon decided to keep his horses at his home in Lancashire over the summer, and that led to him switching to trainers based further North as well. Within ten years, Hemmings had around twenty in training, mostly with Micky Hammond and Sue Smith – and Stan Mellor was heading for retirement!

    Coming forward to 2020, the stables built by Stan Mellor not far from Swindon, which he named Pollardstown, after his Triumph Hurdle winner, are now owned by Sir Mark Todd, the NZ born champion three day event rider. He’s been located there for several years and last year, he took out a licence to train on the flat and expressed ambitions to become a leading player in this new field. You can read an interview with Mark Todd here:

    Todd’s transferable talent

    Cork All Star
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    Steeplechasing at Wolverhampton. That seems like a long time ago now! I expect there are some younger racegoers who do not realise it used to be a good jumps track.

    It is sad to realise how many jumps tracks we have lost since 1990. Aside from Wolverhampton, we have also lost Nottingham, Windsor, Folkestone and Towcester. Other tracks are half the tracks they were or have just become home to poor summer jumping, like Worcester, Stratford and Newton Abbot.

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    Not to mention Haydock getting rid of one of the best steeplechase courses in the country just to put a second flat track in and Wetherby changing the configuration of their chase course.

    And don’t get me started on these portable fences that horses can just about run through. The art of fence building appears to be another thing to disappear from British racing.

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    A thoroughly enjoyable walk down memory lane as usual, ap. Thanks for these excellent pieces.

    “Steeplechasing at Wolverhampton. That seems like a long time ago now! I expect there are some younger racegoers who do not realise it used to be a good jumps track.”

    Cork- the mighty Night Nurse won a novice chase at Wolverhampton in 1978. When you add that Indian Skimmer won her maiden at the same track in 1987, it’s a real shame to see how far that particular racecourse has fallen.

    Cork All Star
    • Total Posts 408

    I knew Indian Skimmer won her maiden at Wolverhampton but I never knew Night Nurse won there! I believe Golden Miller won there back in the day.

    I still don’t mind a day at Wolverhampton but it is a shame that is just an all weather track now.

    The decline of Haydock as a jumps track saddens me more. I used to love going there and watching them jump the big drop fences with that long run in. Picking up on one of the horses AP mentioned, I am sure I saw Carrick Hill Lad win a novice Chase there towards the end of 1989.

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