2021 Has Been A Great Year Of Racing, But It Hasn’t Been A Great Year For Racing.

By Samantha Martin (@sam_angelina22)

2021 has been a great year of racing, but it hasn’t been a great year for racing.

I have always had an interest in horse racing, which stemmed from watching Channel Four on a Saturday afternoon at my Grandad’s side. Inspired, I dreamt of being the first female jockey to win the Grand National (but the fantastic Rachael Blackmore beat me to it!) I would do this riding a horse called ‘Scrumdillydumtious’ and we would win it five times. It makes me smile at the innocence of that. I know now that it would be somewhat impossible for a horse to win five consecutive Nationals as they can rarely sustain their form at that level for five years straight.

For as long as I can remember, I have been besotted with racehorses and, unlike regular teenage girls, pictures of horses and jockeys adorn my bedroom walls instead of popstars. I am passionate about attracting more young people to the sport, so two definite highlights of my year were the days when I created content for Careers In Racing’s Instagram page for their events at Doncaster and Warwick.

The first of these was an Explore Racing Day in August that began at the National Horseracing College in Doncaster, where our group was shown what it is like to study there. Later, I made my first trip to their local racecourse for the Racing League meeting. This concept has received criticism, but I am pleased to see that it will return in 2022. This particular raceday was so competitive, with the winning margin being no more than a length in all seven races. The prize pot was £50,000 per race and that is excellent for those who were able to take part, considering one of the biggest complaints throughout the year has been about insufficient prize money. I am not sure whether racing fans bought into the team aspect as much as the creators may have hoped, but I think its popularity will grow.

My trip to Warwick for the Pony Racing Authority’s Taster Day was incredible. Over one hundred children and their parents visited the racecourse to learn more about the industry. I strongly believe that horse racing is a sport young people can love and this day really showed that. All of the children seemed to be having a great time with the multiple activities and behind-the-scenes insight into the racecourse. There were four pony races that day and some extremely talented young riders showcased their skills. Hopefully, this day will have given the attendees a passion for horse racing that will last a lifetime.

In September, I was lucky enough to spend a morning at Olly Murphy’s yard and I am so grateful for the time Olly spent with me, answering my questions and chatting about his horses. His facilities are incredible and the horses were so happy – you could tell how loved they are. Some even wandered away from their food to come over for some fuss. It was amazing to meet Champagnesuperover and Linelee King, who I have followed for their entire careers, as well as some exciting youngsters like Butch and Go Dante. The team have been absolutely flying in the early stages of the new season with the likes of Brewin’upastorm and Thomas Darby winning big races and their success is well-earned and well-deserved.

Dink and I

In October, I visited Dan Skelton’s training operation. At the main yard, Lodge Hill, I was delighted to have my picture taken with long-time favourites Beakstown and Nube Negra. Alne Park Stud is a new venture for the Skelton team and they stand Dink, who is my absolute favourite stallion. You can’t help but go “Wow!” when you see him. He really is spectacular and a true gentleman, who was happy to stand and lap up our attention. Dan’s wife, Grace, gave me an incredibly fun and informative tour.

In early December, my family and I braved the elements and attended Aintree’s Becher Chase meeting. For me, this day encompassed everything that is great about the sport. I have made many friends through the horse racing social media community and I finally had the opportunity to put faces to names. It was such a laugh meeting the gang from the Under Starters Orders Podcast, who kindly had me on the show this year. The equine talent on the card made me giddy with excitement and the air was full of anticipation before the Cotswold Chase as everyone tried to spot Tiger Roll. He really is tiny! With hindsight, it was particularly special to see Native River too, now that he has gone off for a very well-deserved retirement. In the Becher, Snow Leopardess and Aidan Coleman made easy work of the infamous Grand National fences. Now, all roads must lead to the big race in April for this excellent mare. Before this race, I loved watching the horses as they went out onto the track because you really get a glimpse of their personalities – it was funny to see Abaya Du Mathan sticking his tongue out as he strolled down the walk-way. Occasionally, you get little tit-bits from the jockeys too like Craig Nichol, who partnered Hill Sixteen and said something along the lines of “let’s see how we get on against these big bastards”. They got on rather well, finishing a narrowly-beaten second.

I have loved every second of my racing trips this year. However, sometimes, I feel as though I’m guilty of looking at racing through rose-tinted glasses. My February 2020 article ‘Should Young People Get Into Horse Racing?’ was in defence of the sport, as I dissected the factors that could deter people from becoming involved in horse racing. However, in 2021, even more complex and difficult issues have surfaced, which have made it difficult to be a horse racing fan.

I love this sport because of the horses, but how can you say its participants and fans respect these beautiful creatures when that photo emerged? Or, when a BBC documentary reveals that a horse, who won multiple grade twos and ran in the Ladbrokes Trophy, ended up executed in a disgraceful abattoir because of a mysterious horse dealer (that no one has actually named yet)?

I am sure any racing fan will agree that it gets tiring defending racing to those who believe it is cruel. I am lucky that my friends support my ‘crazy obsession’ and I am very grateful to my mum and dad for encouraging my ambitions and accompanying me to various racing yards and courses around the country. However, occasionally, I encounter people who are less enthusiastic about my interest and like to ask, “Don’t you think it’s cruel, Samantha?”. I often reply with an impolitely forceful “No!”. Of course I don’t, or why would I be a fan?

The Conditional at Warwick (Photo Copyright JTW Equine Images)

The only thing I hate about horse racing is the fatalities. I could never hate racing but I think, one day this year, I declared that sentiment through tears and snot. It was the 21st of February, a Sunday. The Newbury Denman Chase card had been rescheduled to the day after the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot, a card that saw three horses (Severano, Yalltari and L’Ami Serge) die in consecutive races. Then, in the Denman Chase, a wonderful horse called The Conditional went wrong. The thought of it still brings a lump to my throat. I had watched this horse run in January 2020 at Warwick. I saw him again at Cheltenham when he won the Ultima – what a day that must’ve been for connections! He never ran a bad race, always tried his heart out and the whole thing was just utterly and completely unfair. He didn’t deserve to lose his life whilst racing. I turned the TV off after that. I couldn’t stomach it.

Over the last few weeks, two major court cases have put the weighing room dynamic under scrutiny. The Bryony Frost and Robbie Dunne case drew attention to bullying and sexual assault amongst jockeys. This has caused many people to question whether the British Horseracing Authority and Professional Jockeys Association are living up to their responsibility to protect their participants. Additionally, the repercussions from the High Court ruling regarding Freddie Tylicki’s horrific, life-changing injuries on that fateful day at Kempton will be felt in racing – and sport as a whole – for many years to come.

Overwhelmingly, racing has only been reported on by the mass media when the aforementioned issues have emerged. These are quite often the only glimpses of horse racing that most people will have and attach the poor actions of a minority onto the majority. They are left unaware of the other side of the story – the beautiful and exciting moments that happen every single raceday.

Throughout my GCSEs and now my A Levels, my teachers constantly told me that an article like this needs to be wrapped up with a conclusion that gives a self-assured, definitive, final judgement, but I can’t give you that. Racing’s situation is not black and white – it’s far from simple. I’d be lying or delusional if I said I had all the answers because I don’t. No one does. Despite this, everything I have mentioned here cannot be swept under the carpet and ignored.

In 2022, we all need to come together to help make positive changes to the sport.

Six selections for racing on the 29th

By Luke Keena (@lukekeena1)

Futurum Regem apart, yesterday was a below average day, but we move onto the final day of action for the Christmas festivals at Leopardstown and Limerick.

The first of my six selections on day runs in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Chase at Leopardstown off at 12:00. Averne is falling to a tempting mark for the Cromwell team, but I think the stablemate, Shes Some Doll could be thrown in on handicap debut. She was last seen making the breakthrough over fences at Tramore winning over todays trip very impressively, beating subsequent winner Earths Furies who won off a mark of 97 at Limerick. Shes Some Doll runs of a mark of 98 which I think is very generous. Though she is a novice, she does not lack for experience over fences having had the three runs before making the breakthrough last time out. I think she will take a bit of beating with Brien Kane in the saddle at a price of 13/2.

The first selections at Limerick comes in the opening race and is Wishmoor for the Johnny Levins team. While his recent form is far from inspiring, he will love the return to Limerick and the heavy ground. He was a cosy winner of this race twelve months ago off a five-pound lower mark when going off 11/4 joint favourite. Heavy ground seems to be the key to him, and he will get that if Limerick passes the inspection in the morning. If he can recapture lasts years form his price of 16/1 will seem very generous.

The Advent Surety Irish EBF Mares Hurdle looks to be a cracker on paper with Shewearsitwell making her seasonal debut after being very impressive when last seen at Tipperary, but I am going to take her in with Heaven Help Us. She was far from disgraced in graded company last time out in the International Hurdle at Cheltenham against the geldings over two miles. She was a very impressive winner of the Coral Cup at the festival last year and returns to a similar trip here after her runs over shorter trips this year. She is getting weight off her main market rivals, and I think she could take some pegging back with King George winning jockey Danny Mullins in the saddle at a price of 6/1.

While it may appear there is no super star in the Neville Hotel Novice Chase it is a very intriguing event. The winner will have to do something special to match Galopin De Champs breath-taking performance on day three. Run Wild Fred could go and bolt up like he did in the Troytown but at the prices I will be leaving him alone. I am going to give Fury Road another chance. He was called a few names after his last run when appearing to stop once hitting the front at the back of the last in the Drinmore. I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. The trip was always going to be on the sharp side for him over the two and a half miles around Fairyhouse on quick ground. That being said, he jumped and travelled very well. The step up in trip and application of the cheekpieces should only help and I think he is worth taking a chance on at 15/2.

My penultimate selection runs in the Greenmount Equine Hospital Rated Novice Hurdle over two miles off at 2:05. I will be siding with the Philip Fenton trained runner, Lake Chad. He returned this year after two and a half years off the track to finish a close third at Clonmel in October. Next time out over course and distance he won as easy as he liked on heavy ground. He then ran twice more within four days of that win and was not disgraced either time, but I think they were too soon after the win. He has been off for over a month now and come into the race after a nice gap since last seen. He comes into the race eleven pounds higher than winning over course and distance, but I do not think that will stop him. Mikey Hamil gets on well with him and rides again claiming three pounds. If he turns up in the same form he was in last month he will go very close at 14/1.

My final selection come at Leopardstown in the penultimate race and is the Roger McGrath trained mare, Sweet Street. I would easily put a line through her last run when being well bet at Cork off the back of a career best run at Fairyhouse a week previous. She was beaten three lengths by the improving Chemical Energy on good ground. She was an eye catcher in a maiden hurdle over course and distance back in March when bet by the talented Royal Illusion. There is a slight question mark over the trip being on the sharp side for her, but I think if she can be handy early on, the slower ground should bring her stamina into it late on. I do not think a mark of 116 is the cap of her ability and think she will outrun her odds of 33/1.

Abacadbras to pull rabbit out of the hat in Christmas Hurdle

By Luke Keena(@lukekeena1)

After one winner and two horses in the placings yesterday, I have five selections to keep in mind for racing in Ireland on Tuesday.

The first of those runs in the Irish Daily Star Christmas Handicap Hurdle off at 12:35 at Leopardstown. I like the Dermot McLoughlin trained runner The Great White. He was an impressive winner in Limerick back in April, getting the better of Definiteadare by eleven lengths. He then backed up quickly at Punchestown when he underperformed, I think that run is easy excusable based on the quick turn around off a career best run. He has since run three times over fences and been placed in two of those events. He has been off since July, and I think that will play to his strengths. His win at Limerick came off the back of a break and I think being fresh will be the key to him. I think he still has the potential to be better than a 106 rated horse over hurdles and I think he will go close at 12/1.

The next race is the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle over three miles, a race that splits opinions due to the structure of the qualifying system for the final at Cheltenham. I was a big fan of Gentlemansgame last year and he is a very interesting runner off top weight, but my selection is Futurum Regem who runs off a very light racing weight. He has won his last two outings and looks to be a progressive type. The first of those wins came at Navan over two miles and six furlongs, winning by a very impressive nine lengths. He was last seen over two and a half miles when he got up in the shadows of the post to win a very competitive handicap. The step up to three miles looks sure to suit judged on his past two races. Neil Ryan has had a fantastic start to his career in racing and claims a very valuable seven pounds here. I think he will go very close at 12/1.

The final selection at Leopardstown comes in the Dornan Engineering Christmas Hurdle off at 1:45. The top two in the market set a high standard but I am going to take them on with Abacadbras. On ratings he has a few pounds to find with a few of his rivals, but I think the step up in trip could see him bridge the gap. He is a renowned strong traveller that may just do enough to get involved here. He was last seen in the Hattons Grace when he finished a distant third behind Honeysuckle, he has shown over the past few years that he needs a run to get up to speed. The form of his Aintree hurdle could hardly be working out any better with many of those who finished in behind coming out and winning. He should be the last horse off the bridle and if he gets the trip, I think he will be bang there at a tempting each way price.

The first of two selections at Limerick runs in the D Pack Packaging Handicap Hurdle off at 2:05. I like the chances of Chenery for now Grade 1 winning jockey Ian Power. She did not run a bad race last time out on her first start over fences. Prior to that she had been running on unsuitable ground and as a result has been falling back down the handicap to just a two-pound higher mark then when last seen winning in March on heavy ground. The ground and trip will be ideal and runs in the first-time blinkers which should sharpen her up. I think she has a great chance and will go very close at 14/1.

Longhouse Poet

The final selection on the day comes in the Tim Duggan Memorial Handicap Chase off at 2:40. I like the Martin Brassil trained runner, Longhouse Poet. He was towards the top of the market for both the National Hunt chase at Cheltenham and the Irish Grand National before being taken out of both due to the ground being too quick as he is thought to be a soft to heavy ground horse, conditions he will get here. This will be his first run in just under a year leaving a question mark over fitness. He was last seen winning his beginners chase at Punchestown getting the better of two subsequent winners of significant staying chases. He was just below top grade as a novice hurdler, and I think he is a better chaser. The drop in trip is a slight concern but the testing conditions should make it a proper test of stamina. I think he will prove to be better than a mark of 145 in these conditions and could take a bit of beating.

Five selections for racing on the 27th December

By Luke Keena(@lukekeena1)

After the racing extravaganza that is St Stephens Day, another big day of racing is in store on Monday. Between Kempton, Leopardstown, Limerick and Chepstow I have five selections to keep an eye on.

The first of those comes at Limerick in the Grade 2 Lyons Of Limerick Jaguar Rover Novice Hurdle off at 2:05. I think Eric Bloodaxe should be able to get the day off to a quick start here. He was a very good bumper horse before having problems for the past few years. He made his hurdles debut back in November and was impressive when winning by eight lengths. He was last seen finishing a well beaten second behind the exciting Gordon Elliot recruit, Ginto. He was six lengths clear of the third who has subsequently come out and won at Thurles. I think he is a talented horse that will take a bit of beating with Bryan Cooper in the saddle.

The next selection runs at Leopardstown in the Paddy Power “I’ve Had More Vaccines Than Nights Out” Handicap Hurdle off at 2:20. I like the Peter Fahey trained runner Surprise Package. He was narrowly denied on his penultimate start by an improving type in I A Connect. He seemed to get slightly outpaced before finishing very strongly, just failing to get up. He was last seen running at Navan last week when traveling very well down the hill at Navan before emptying up the hill over two and a half miles. I think the big field and strong pace to aim at over two miles on a stiffer track like Leopardstown could see him go very close at a double figure price.

The feature race at Chepstow is the Coral Welsh Grand National Handicap Chase off at 2:50. An ultra-competitive renewal made very interesting with the inclusion of past winner Native River in the final field. I like the other Colin Tizzard representative, Elegant Escape. Native River running ensures that there will be a good pace to the race and has kept the weights down for Elegant Escape who now carries 11-2, it also means a few runners are running from out of the handicap. He was given no chance on reappearance when running over two miles at Sandown after a 631-day break. He is now down to a mark only five pounds higher than when he won this race back in 2018. He ran in this race in 2019 and finished sixth having to carry top weight in bottomless ground. He will have his ground and should have a nice pace to aim at and I think he will outrun his odds of 16/1.

Just five minutes later the Paddy Power Chase is due off at Leopardstown. Another big field staying handicap chase and I am going to take a chance on the once top novice chaser, Death Duty. The wheels very much have come off since then with injury keeping him off the track for over two years. I think it is interesting they have persisted with him, and he has not ended up in the horse in training sale at some stage. He did not run a bad race at Cheltenham in 2020 when backed late on into second favourite and followed that up with a decent display behind Bachasson at Clonmel that March. The falling mark is what has drawn me in, he was once rated as highly as 159 over fences, he has rapidly dropped down to a mark of 139. I think there is still a race to be won with him and at 50/1, I am willing to take a chance on him here with Shane Fitzgerald taking off a valuable five pounds.

My final selection of the day runs in the last race at Kempton and is the Nicky Henderson trained runner, Captain Morgs. The form of his three runs this year look very strong. He was last seen finishing second behind Onemorefortheroad at Newbury, the winner has since come out and finished second in a very good handicap hurdle at Ascot. Prior to that Captain Morgs won in gritty fashion at Ascot and the second has since come out and been third in that same race Onemorefortheroad was second in at Ascot this month. First time out this season he was third at Cheltenham behind Guard Your Dreams and Coole Coady, both have since won big races at Cheltenham. I think there is more to come from Captain Morgs off a mark of 131 and he can end the day on a high with Nico De Boinville in the saddle.