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Then and Now – January

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    January 1990 started on a Monday, with a two day meeting at Cheltenham and ended with the long standing Saturday card at Sandown. Whilst Cheltenham is down to one day since 1994, Sandown retains that fixture, with the Tolworth Hurdle as the feature.

    But three other races that were the focus of my visits to the races in the years up to 1990, have since disappeared from the program. The New Year’s Day Hurdle at Windsor went with the ending of NH racing at the track, the 4M New Year Handicap Chase was dropped from the Cheltenham card in 2005, replaced by a race at 3M 2F that continues in 2020. And for me, the saddest loss, the Anthony Mildmay, Peter Cazalet Handicap Chase, run over the wonderful 3M 5F course at Sandown.

    That was a major race in the chasing calendar in 1990, won that year by Cool Ground. He was one of two future Gold Cup winners to take the Mildmay/Cazalet in the 80’s/90’s, the other being Burrough Hill Lad. The roll of honour also included three Grand National winners – West Tip, Rhyme ‘N’ Reason and Mr Frisk. It was last run in 2000, although it was part of the cards that were abandoned in 2001/02/03. But in 2004, it was replaced by a bog standard 3M handicap that survived until 2016, when that slot was taken by the Veterans Final. Whilst that is a thoroughly worthwhile and entertaining contest, it lacks the class of the Mildmay/Cazalet.

    I had intended to use these lost staying races as the basis for a diatribe about the wider decline in that type of race. But a search of the program for 2020 (using my access to the Racing Admin website as an owner), shows that I was missing the target. What has happened between then and now isn’t a decline, but a change of emphasis. The long distance chases still exist, but they are run on the smaller tracks midweek, not the top class tracks on a Saturday.

    Look at this list of races scheduled for January and February 2020, all run over a minimum of 3M 4F:

    Jan 5th Plumpton Sussex National

    Jan 9th Catterick North Yorkshire Grand National

    Jan 11th Warwick Warwick Classic

    Jan 18th Taunton Portman Cup

    Feb 1st Muss Edinburgh National

    Feb 7th Bangor Standard 0-120 (not called the North Wales National!)

    Feb 11th Lingfield Surrey National

    Feb 21st Exeter Devon National
    And in addition to those, there are the traditional Grand National Trial at Haydock and the Eider Chase at Newcastle. So despite the races that have been lost (and I’m old enough to remember races over 3M 5F at Kempton and Worcester in the 80’s), others have come along to replace them. Overall, it means that the GoldCup/Grand National type chasers have fewer options at marathon trips, but there are plenty of races for the lesser horses that would have been filling the fields from out of the handicap in the 70’s and 80’s.

    It would also seem that we’ve reached the stage where it would be easier to name the courses that don’t stage a regional Grand National, then to list those that do.

    Leaving the staying chases, the one thing that stood out from the fixtures for that first week of 1990, was the courses that have closed. Aside from the Windsor meeting on Jan 1st, there was also NH racing at Nottingham and Folkestone on Jan 4/5th respectively. The early months of 1990 also gave us that short lived horror story, hurdle racing on the AW tracks at Lingfield and Southwell, as those tracks switched daily between flat and NH racing.

    Interesting to look at the finances, with the Mildmay Cazalet (winners prize £14,300) by far the biggest race of the week. Forest Sun collected just £7,280 for winning the Tolworth Hurdle, which will pay £28,500 this year.

    Cheltenham then was nothing like the pinnacle of NH racing that we’ve got now and the two day New Year meeting was mostly quite run of the mill. The 4M handicap chase at £6,700 was the big prize, whereas every winner this week will collect over £15k and the regular 2m 5f chase offers over £39k. That growth is reflected in the crowd figures of 11,000 in 1990 and a probable 25 – 30,000 now – the modern record for New Year’s Day is 34,500 in 2016.

    Result of the Week:

    Haydock Friday Jan 5th

    Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle 2m 7f

    1st : Fleet Commander 14/1 Adie Smith (7)

    But it’s the name of the man recording his first ever winner under rules with this success that I suspect will come as a surprise to many – Martyn Meade.

    He was just a NH permit holder then and his only other winner in the 1989/90 season came in a novice hunter chase at Uttoxeter in February, that winner ridden by a Mr Donald McCain!

    He had his first flat winner in 1994, but was strictly low key and had two spells out of the game before moving into the big time in 2016, thanks to his first top class horse, Aclaim, winner of the Group 2 Challenge Stakes at Newmarket.

    And finally for this week, with heartfelt thanks to TRF member ‘Espmadrid’ for all his work in producing and loading videos on Youtube, a replay of that 1990 Mildmay Cazalet Chase at Sandown.

    A rousing finish of the sort so often seen in chases at Sandown, and probably a politically popular result with the Esher crowd, the winner ridden by A Tory!

    • Total Posts 719

    I wonder why they got rid of the Mildmay Cazalet – was an official reason ever given?


    • Total Posts 533

    Although the race title was dropped, the race with the same conditions was moved to the Tingle Creek meeting in early December and renamed the Marathon Chase. Now run as the London National.

    Explanation for the change reported here:…-a0110053733

    ....and you've got to look a long way back for anything else.

    • Total Posts 719

    Brilliant espmadrid – thanks for that

    Cork All Star
    • Total Posts 536

    Thanks AP, a great read.

    Windsor was a really good jumps track. New Year’s Day was always great there. The jumps made a brief return there in the winters of 2004 and 2005 when Ascot was being redeveloped. I remember seeing Baracuda win the Long Walk there. I was hopeful they would decide to keep the jumps going but it was not to be. I expect they do not want to ruin the ground for their lucrative Monday nights in the summer.

    Folkestone was a nice track too and it was a shame when it closed.

    My main memory of the jumps at Nottingham was seeing Royal Gait win a novice hurdle there in 1992. I backed him at 25/1 for the Champion Hurdle later that day. He won again at Nottingham before winning at Cheltenham and surviving a nerve wracking stewards enquiry.

    Ex RubyLightEx RubyLight
    • Total Posts 1576

    Great read, AP. Thanks for sharing.

    When you mention Windsor NH, the first horse that springs to mind is Zambezi Spirit. I used to follow Meritta Jones in the mid 90s, so that brings back some fond memories.

    • Total Posts 1282

    Excellent and thought-provoking read, AP. Thank you very much for posting.

    “When you mention Windsor NH, the first horse that springs to mind is Zambezi Spirit.”

    Funny; mine is Ra Nova, a redoubtable little terrier who won the New Year’s Day hurdle twice in the mid-80s.

    Titus Oates
    • Total Posts 212

    Excellent post AP – I thoroughly enjoyed reading that and look forward to future instalments.

    Just one of the good things about the time frame of 1990 compared to 2020 is that it shows the effect of the NH pattern, which came in (according to Wikipedia) in 1989. The Mildmay/Cazalet (the race highlighted by AP) was one of the casualties. So too were others. They include races like the Gainsborough (later Agfa), which my namesake lumped 12 stone round to win back in 1971. I was a horse mad kid at the time, and totally in awe of this strapping bay chaser with a highly distinctive white blaze and low head carriage. Titus (who, for good measure, also won a King George, a Whitbread and a Massey Ferguson) was followed by the magnificent Crisp the next year (also carrying 12 stone), and other legends like Bula, Diamond Edge, Burrough Hill Lad (a 3 times winner) and, of course, Dessie, who won it twice (1989 and 1991), both times carrying 12 stone. Beyond 1991 its roll of honour comprises good handicappers. The Mandarin, the Racing Post, the Whitbread … it is exactly the same picture. The effect of the NH pattern has been to relegate these races to, at best, G3 handicap chases and, simultaneously, to create a clear programme of G1 and G2 races for the top horses.

    In the process, I think, NH racing has lost something. Whilst the likes of the Mildmay, Gainsborough, Racing Post etc are often good, highly competitive races still, the absence of top horses from these races means that we have lost one of the clearest means to measure their standing in NH’s Hall of Fame. Dessie’s highest rating came not off his G1 race wins but off the back of his Racing Post Chase win. Likewise, it was the exception to the norm in current times that showed just what an exceptional staying chaser Denman was – carrying 12 stone off a rating in the 170s to win his second Hennessy. Both were benchmark performances that will live long in the memories of those who saw them. They also epitomised what many of us who love this sport admire most in the top class staying chaser. This is not just class and jumping ability but that combined with what compressed handicaps test above all else, toughness, or the guts, will and determination that is needed to give away large amounts of weight to good horses.

    When I look at NH racing now, where one hard race, seemingly, is enough to ‘bottom’ many of the top horses, it’s that combination of qualities that I find in increasingly short supply.

    • Total Posts 1205

    I was cycling on the bank opposite Windsor a few weeks back and thought about how the jumps are missed there. The NYD fixture was very welcome and even now there is still no fixture in that day in the south east, which is absurd

    Frankly I thought it a better suited track for jumps than flat but I have to say I remember a November Saturday there in nov in the early 90s where there crowd was pitiful.

    Jumps more of a draw now perhaps? Im not sure the ground argument is too relevant either. Surely a handful of fixtures wouldn’t create problems

    • Total Posts 3099

    Thanks for all your comments.

    So far as I recall Clive, the Windsor decision was purely financial. The approximate quote I remember from the then Clerk of the Course, Hugo Bevan, was to the effect that they made money on their flat meetings and lost it on the NH ones. In 1990 they had 13 flat meetings, last year they had 27.

    Agree about the loss of the Gold Cup level horses from handicaps – to add to the ones mentioned by Titus Oates, I saw Burrough Hill Lad win the Hennessy undwr 12 st, a virtuoso performance by both horse and rider, J Francome.

    January Week Two will be posted shortly.

    • Total Posts 3099

    January Week Two

    It was a quiet, low key week then, and it’s still much the same now. The biggest fixture change is the straight swap that moved the Kempton Lanzarote Hurdle card one week earlier to this weekend, with the Ascot Victor Chandler card going the other way.

    In 1990, the week began with four Martin Pipe winners in successive races at Chepstow, a once in a lifetime achievement for most trainers, but by then, sufficiently commonplace for Pipe that it hardly warranted a headline.

    Two days later, a (very) low grade handicap hurdle on the AW surface at Southwell saw a 5-y-old called Suluk break his maiden over hurdles, just three days after he’d won a flat race at the same track. Suluk had started his racing career in Ireland, running in the colours of Hamdan Al Maktoum, trained by Kevin Prendergast, and he won a 10F maiden at Phoenix Park.

    At the end of his 3-y-old season, he was sold to Reg Hollinshead, who gave him three runs in juvenile hurdles before switching to the flat. During the summer of 1989, he won five 12F handicaps round the North, which saw his handicap mark rise from 56 to 68. It really was a different world – can you imagine any horse nowadays going up only 12lbs for winning five races? Hollinshead was very much ‘old school’, a man that believed the word ‘racehorse’ indicated a horse intended to be raced. Suluk was a good example, as those five wins came from eighteen runs between Mar 27th and Nov 6th

    Then came the event that changed everything for Suluk, the opening of the AW track at Southwell. He went on to win eighteen hurdle races, all of them at Southwell, and he started favourite in each of the last seventeen. The first six were handicaps, the rest were claimers and sellers, of which there were plenty on offer at Southwell. Of course those races weren’t worth much, as his hurdling career (18 wins, 3 seconds, 1 third) generated just £31k in prize money. But Suluk was an early AW legend and he did wonders for the career of young conditional rider Steve Wynne, who partnered him in all those selling/claiming wins.

    Suluk’s career ended as an 8-y-old, when he finished lame running in an amateur riders hurdle at Southwell, beaten at 4/6 by the wonderfully named Hiram B Birdbath. He won 26 of his 79 career starts, 20 of them on the Fibresand by the Trent.

    The following afternoon saw the first of the regular fortnightly Thursday meetings at Wincanton, that were a highlight of my winter racing days out from my base in Swindon. This one featured the John Bull Chase, a conditions event over 2m 5f, won in 1990 by Toby Tobias with Pegwell Bay second. Both horses went on to run in the Gold Cup, finishing second and fifth respectively. There’s no possibility of seeing horses of this class at Wincanton nowadays and I’ll have more to say about the demise of these races next month.

    Then on to Saturday, when I was at Ascot to watch just about the most competitive renewal of the Victor Chandler, ten runners turning out for a first prize of almost £31k. That went to Meikleour, trained by the late, great, Jimmy Fitzgerald, with such 2M luminaries as Pearlyman, Panto Prince, Feroda and Long Engagement amongst his defeated rivals. Also down the field in ninth place was a longshot trained by a man nobody had heard of, but everybody would come to know just two months later, Norton’s Coin.

    The Victor Chandler Chase attracted top class horses back then despite being run as a handicap. I’m sure most readers will remember, or at least have seen a replay of the famous duel between Desert Orchid and Panto Prince. But Ascot has never attracted the crowds for NH racing and the contrast with the Cheltenham fixtures is marked. Whereas they’ve pushed the New Year’s Day attendance up from 11,000 to over 25,00 (and the other January fixture from 8,000 to 20,000), Ascot got 9,600 in 1990 and 9,900 last year.

    I used to enjoy going to NH meetings there before the redevelopment (I hate the new stand), but it was hard to avoid the feeling that the people who ran the place tolerated the jump racing, but had no real feel for it, or desire to promote it to a wider audience.

    Result of the Week

    Warwick Saturday Jan 13th Alderminster Handicap Hurdle 2m 5f

    James My Boy Adele Jackson (7) 20/1

    Trained by Mowbray Dickinson

    It was that last name that caught my eye when browsing the results, because I’d never heard of him, and you’d think with that name, his career (however brief) might have registered in my memory.

    It turns out that I hadn’t remembered him, because he never really existed. The trainer of James My Boy was actually called Michael Dickinson, but not the one everybody remembers, who by 1990 was domiciled in the USA. This MD was apparently well known on the Midland point to point circuit and was a shrewd buyer of young horses that he developed before they went into training elsewhere – e.g. Waterloo Boy and Another Coral.

    When he opted to take out a full licence, having already spent years explaining the naming confusion, he chose to train as ‘Mowbray’ Dickinson – you can guess therefore where his yard was located. As those who know me will understand, I can fully sympathise with a man that finds his name appropriated by another individual. Although I never considered changing my name to Swindon Potts!

    His training career didn’t last long or produce many winners and I wasn’t able to trace any record of what happened to him thereafter – for some reason putting ‘Michael Dickinson Trainer’ into Google produces thousands of results, but none that refer to Melton Mowbray.

    And finally, here’s the video of that Victor Chandler chase at Ascot:

    Note the NH parade ring in front of the Grandstand, the old Meccano number board located between the flat and jump tracks and the golf course in the centre of the track – all long gone now. And I’m pretty sure those are still wooden wings on the fences – the recent Capeland incident would have been a lot worse in 1990. Racing may be slow to adapt and change, but they do get some things right eventually.

    • Total Posts 4638

    Two points from Alan’s great story from yesteryear:

    Hiram B Birdbath was one of a number of horses named after Groucho Marx characters, another was Rufus T Firefly.

    Royal Ascot Cricket Club still play in the middle of the course at Ascot. I played one game there for Bradfield back in the 80s when we got mullahed by a fast bowler who went on to play for Berkshire.

    I too miss the jumps fixtures at the ‘old Ascot’. I worked at Wokingham, next to the station, and would hop on the train after a morning at work to take in an afternoon fixture.

    Cork All Star
    • Total Posts 536

    Thanks for another great post.

    I miss the jumps fixtures at the old Ascot as well. I backed a few nice winners there over the years. Hitman, trained by Mark Pitman, at a tasty 20/1 is a fond memory.

    I do not think the jumps works anywhere near as well at the new Ascot. It is far too corporate looking and I agree about the stand – it is terrible!

    I also miss the old Ascot Heath meeting that used to be on the Saturday after the Royal meeting but must not get sidetracked by the Flat!

    The decline of chasing at Wincanton is a shame. I am sure the Midseason Chase on Boxing Day used to have some quality runners. Now it is very run of the mill.

    Picking up on some points made about week 1. When Windsor staged some of Ascot’s fixtures in late 2004 and 2005, it got quite large crowds. I think people would go to see good racing. The problem was a lot of the jumps there was rubbish.

    As for the Gainsborough Chase, it should be remembered that its most famous winner was the mighty Arkle. When he won in 1965 he gave Mill House over a stone, beat him by about 30 lengths and shattered the course record. His time stood for years. I believe that was not just a great racing performance but one of the greatest ever in any sport.

    Ex RubyLightEx RubyLight
    • Total Posts 1576

    I miss the jumps fixtures at the old Ascot as well. I backed a few nice winners there over the years. Hitman, trained by Mark Pitman, at a tasty 20/1 is a fond memory

    Those were the days when Mark Pitman had Malcolm Denmark in the yard.

    The decline of chasing at Wincanton is a shame. I am sure the Midseason Chase on Boxing Day used to have some quality runners. Now it is very run of the mill

    Another good race gone, but the same applies to the Rowland Meyrick and the Castleford Chase, I think.

    Won by the likes of Waterloo Boy, Katabatic or good old Viking Flagship.

    • Total Posts 1134

    I remember Ra Nova; redoubtable little fellow, was 3rd in the Christmas Hurdle behind Dawn Run and Gaye Brief, and won the Schweppes.
    I’ve never been able to find a proper recording of that Christmas Hurdle, bar the last few hurdles, but it was the first time we realised that Dawn Run could be a phenomenon.

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