Only a month late and feeling very much the April fool, I made my debut at Warren Greatrex’s yard earlier this morning to pay a visit to his Cheltenham hero, Cole Harden. The horse was huge value at 20/1 for the World Hurdle a few weeks ago and the yard is hugely confident of a follow-up win at Aintree next week.
It was one of those days in Lambourn that made you happy to be alive, with spring in the air and a blinding sun slowing the traffic in the Valley of the Racehorse to a leisurely pace. Greatrex is one of the leading lights in the up-and-coming training ranks, alongside the likes of Harry Fry and Dan Skelton – three names surely set to dominate the National Hunt scene for decades to come.
Greatrex trains at Uplands, Fred Winter’s old stables, and despite being a thriving, lively yard, the mind is allowed to wander to memories of Bula, Midnight Court, Lanzarote and Crisp – all of whom were sent from here along with countless others to carve their names in history. Simply to walk around historic yards on glorious mornings like this is to appreciate the magic of racing. And in Greatrex, there can be no finer host and no trainer keener to make a searing impression on jump racing in the years to come.
Lambourn, of course, will host its annual Open Day this Good Friday, twelve months on from the gnashing and grinding of teeth in this part of the world due to the BHA and ARC’s decision to sanction live racing on such a holy day. Traditionalists point to a supposedly relentless diet of moderate all-weather racing with no breaks, no rests, and no opportunities for the racing industry to take a break from the game.
In contrast, supporters of Good Friday racing point to a captive audience, hungry for sport – and betting opportunities – on a public holiday, and suggest the industry needs to fight harder than ever for the attentions of a fickle public who want to be entertained on their bank holidays.
Last year, the Open Days held up well with great crowds and a vibrant buzz about the towns, whilst Lingfield in particular celebrated record crowds at the racing with good quality all-weather fare, terrific prize money and a young, receptive crowd. Nobody seemed to go short and all that was lacking was a chapel on site for those with the inclination to worship something other than the racehorse.
Maybe, just maybe, change need not be too bad.
The Dubai Carnival divides opinion in the racing press room, largely between those who attend, come back tanned and espouse the virtues of a whole host of hideously expensive thoroughbreds, and those who ‘prefer’ to stick to Town Moor with the winter wardrobe still very much to hand. This year’s World Cup went to Prince Bishop for Sheikh Mohammed’s multi-layered racing operation.
Critics have been quick to crab the form of the winner, owned by Sheikh Mo’s son, Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, and whilst the 2015 renewal is unlikely to live as long in the memory as others, the reminder of the Maktoums as a major player in Flat racing is welcome. The relatively recent emergence of the Al-Thaani Sheikhs, Fahad and Joaan, has injected mega-money into the sport – and especially UK Flat racing – but for those of us who hark back to the great Godolphin and Ballydoyle rivalry of the early years of this Millennium, the prospect of a dynasty returning to an upward trajectory after some fairly fallow years, is an exciting prospect.
Tony McCoy’s farewell tour continues apace and Fairyhouse on Easter Monday gives the champion jockey another chance to sign off with a huge win. His mount – at the time of writing – is unconfirmed, but readers could do worse than to risk a couple of centimes each-way on Paul Webber’s Cantlow. Using last year’s race as the form to focus on, and selectively ignoring a number of runs since then, 20/1 about the JP McManus owned stayer looks too big.