Another sporting summer slowly fades away as the leaves turn an autumnal brown and begin to fall off the trees, with darker nights approaching and the clocks not far off going back, those oh so wonderful memories such as the Lionesses in France, England lifting the Cricket World Cup along with a memorable if not quite successful Ashes series plus on the racing front Enable,Stradivarius, Battaash, Hello Youmzain and my own personal favourite from this flat season Safe Voyage, all providing many happy memories it is now time to move on from these wonderful memories of the turf and get the jumpers cranking up a notch or three!
Yes the jumpers are slowly making their presence felt and while racing fans on social media and many other platforms will be inundating us with horses to follow and potential handicap snips to keep an eye on, i thought that instead i would post a few things that make the winter racing season that little bit special.
1 Cheltenham and Aintree How could you possibly not mention these first, Cheltenham is the one place that every March draws in capacity crowds for the jewel in the crown of the national hunt season as people from all over the UK and Ireland make their annual pilgrimage to the home of jump racing at the one festival that sets the benchmark for all the others.
Aintree, home of the Grand National is a top class festival too in its own right and while its not uncommon for Cheltenham form to get reversed its also the main shop window for racing, just saying the words “Grand National” and those opening few notes from the film Champions come about from the jukebox section of the human brain
2 Early season meetings For me the best way to ease into the new season is always to go to a low key early season and just like last year it will be Carlisle, now you often spot the occasional star at these places and last year proved to be the case as Al Dancer landed one of the divisions of the 2m1f Novice Hurdle before eventually landing the rescheduled Betfair Hurdle at Ascot in February.
3 Super Saturday’s Normally during the core part of the season most of the Saturday’s have the following. Two top class jump meetings which are both covered on television, one lower but competitive meeting and one all weather usually at Lingfield. To be at one of the big two Saturday meetings is always special, you feel part of something for a few hours and always leave with many memories and potential clues for later in the season
4 Trade Stands Now surely it is against the law that no jumps meetings can take place without these? They are part and parcel of the day, you need someone, usually Sir Rupert Mackeson and his huge collection of books along with racing memorabilia that you can spend a good deal of time looking at it.
Clothing stands normally of the tweed variety which can be handy when its cold and not to mention the one doing the trade in racing scarves of owners colours and my personal favourite Harry The Hat who has done me nicely in the way of Panamas and Flat Caps over the years
5 Travelling Home In The Dark Early starts may mean early finishes but you cant beat the atmosphere of being at a railway station either midweek or on a busy Saturday after the last race has been run and weary racegoers make their way home. Going by train is arguably my favourite way to travel, on the way armed with a cuppa, bacon roll and the Racing Post seeing the wonderful countryside pass by whilst disecting the form then on the way back you either fall asleep or get a brew to warm up so you stay awake and get off at the right stop and not somewhere else (Thankfully it hasnt happened yet!)
If you’re in a car then its get the second half of the football on the radio as the motorway miles pass by and chat about the days racing.
6 Going To A Replacement AW meeting. This is something which can occur every few years or so. When mother nature intervenes at times she can do nasty things like make jump meetings get abandoned from frost and occasionally snow. Upon this occurring the BHA will do something like sanction a new AW meeting, for me my nearest is Wolverhampton, only an hour by train and a track i do enjoy the odd visit to and have gone down in my jumping kit when my planned Haydock visit has been called off, you do feel grateful for having some racing to go to and despite a 6f handicap for 0-65 horses not having the same appeal to me as a 3m4f Handicap Chase, the challenge is still a good one.
7 The Monday Before Cheltenham. Forget the notion that June has the longest day, it’s total tosh, the longest day without any doubt is traditionally the second Monday in March. From the moment the decs come in for the opening day the form studying is relentless but the time never sees to pass away quicker and when you think its time for bed you check the clock and University Challenge hasnt event started! Its a spring Christmas Eve for jumps fans who all want the same present, to get off to a flying start in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle!
Article written by Neil Watson – @Wattyracing
Racing writer for Racing Reflex and 3 Furlongs Out, Leigh East Tannoy Guy, Had a few radio appearances too, would love to do more of that!