I used to hate early September: after a couple of months on holiday with mum and dad, waking up late in the morning and being allowed to wear what I wanted, it was back to school with a bump. New teachers, new work, early mornings and an itchy school uniform. I confess to feeling a little like this at the moment as the post-Ascot hangover kicks in and the reality of piles of unfinished paperwork begin to cast a shadow over the coming days and weeks.
At school we were allowed to reflect on our holidays and wallow in the memories (by writing a creative writing piece for the teacher, of course) but the racing calendar affords few such luxuries. This weekend we have the Northumberland Plate for stayers and, fresh from Gold Cup success with Trip To Paris last week, Ed Dunlop fields the intriguing Oasis Fantasy who – just by glancing at his pedigree (he is by the sprinter Oasis Dream) – has next to no chance of staying the trip. But there’s stamina on the dam side and jockey Graham Lee will be on a high after his Group One success at the Royal Meeting so he can be relied upon to steady the ship before unleashing a powerful finish to take the Pitmen’s Derby.
It’s the first time I’ve started this blog with a tip but I’ve had a couple of weeks off and have been eager to get this one in print!
Talk of pedigrees has a touch of the Marmite factor: some people obsess about it, swearing blind that an understanding of bloodstock and bloodlines is the key to profit-making and a richer mastery of the sport all round. Others find it interminably dull and point to ita s one of the reasons racing so often struggles to reach out to an entertainment-hungry young audience, who can’t be expected to grasp the ins and outs of dams and sires.
Indeed, one racing paper pointedly made a marketing play around the fact that it proactively ignores bloodstock in its pages. It’s irrelevant and unnecessary, they trumpeted.
I’m far from being an expert but I am a fully paid-up member of the Niche Is Nice Fanclub. What’s wrong with marginal pursuits? As long as we don’t impose our parochial opinions and preferences on a wider group and preach to them that ‘our way is best and damn you if you disagree,’ we are a broad enough church to allow the specialists their time and space to celebrate.
The politics of racing are seldom inactive, but even by ordinary standards this week has thrown up a flurry of interesting stories. Ladbrokes and Coral are in merger talks, prompting memories of the aborted 1998 merger which Peter Mandelson firmly quashed.
At racing HQ, Nick Rust is wasting no time in ringing the changes at the BHA: his newly formed Horseracing Bettors Forum is beginning to take shape and, providing it refrains from catering only for professional punters who spend a less than healthy amount of time on forums and across social media, it has the capacity to provide welcome change.
Rust has also shaken up his executive team, with the search underway for a new Director of Communications and a Director of Racing and Operations. He has a lot on his plate but I wonder what he makes of the Ladbrokes and Coral discussions; he was, after all, a senior executive of both firms before he crossed the floor from betting to racing.