A topic that has bugged me for a very long time is why no one questions the absence of proper titles for so many of our high profile National Hunt races. And even our flat races. Ladbrokes, for instance, are not taking over sponsorship of the Hennessey but instigating a completely new race. If Alastair Down, Brough Scott or some other distinguished journalist was commissioned to write the definitive history of the Hennessey the book would end with Native River’s win in 2016. In effect, from this day forth, the race we fondly remember as the Hennessey is dead. It was simply that 3mile 2 furlong handicap chase run at Newbury in November. The Hennessey is now as defunct as Wye, Stockton and Hurst Park.
It was the same when Massey-Ferguson sponsored whatever that first big 2-mile 4-furlong handicap chase at Cheltenham is now called. When Betfair tire of sponsoring the chase that bears their name at Haydock it too will die.
I was outraged, and remain outraged, when Boyle Sports, or Spoil Sports as I can only think of them, removed the name Bula from the Bula Hurdle, Boyle Sports no doubt believing themselves more important than a mere champion racehorse. No, I still haven’t forgiven them and if we had one of their shops where I live I wouldn’t go in there. I may have my faults but I know how to carry a grudge.
This ‘little’ issue will only be taken seriously when Royal Ascot drops its standards and allows sponsorship, when names like Norfolk, Chesham, Sandringham and perhaps Royal Hunt will one by one disappear to be replaced by names such as Betfair, Bet 666, Fred Joblots Mint Imperials and perhaps even Paddy Power. A soul-destroying thought but as sure as eggs are eggs we will one day fall over that cliff. Sponsorship maybe the life-blood of the sport, sadly, but the ventricles and arteries of the beating heart are the races they take hostage.
I believe it was George Ward of Vistaprint fame who started the rot, believing himself a saviour rather than the instigator of the slaughter of racing heritage and history. George Ward used racing to promote his business and then buggered off when he had no more use for the sport. Which, of course, is what all sponsors eventually do. I wouldn’t mind if they had respect for the races they are sponsoring. Fill your boots, I say, but allow our races to have dignified titles rather than business names.
It’s not like a group of musicians starting off as Fred Joblot and the Sparklers only to be renamed The Rolling Stones when signed by a record company and remaining the Rolling Stones for ever more. Perhaps it was naïve to expect Hennessey to sponsor the 3-mile 2-furlong handicap chase run in November at Newbury for ever more, even if for ever more it will be called ‘the Hennessey’, as that 3-mile 5-furlong chase at Sandown in April is always recalled as ‘the Whitbread’.
The Rendlesham Hurdle was run recently at Haydock, not that it was called that. Betfair or someone removed Rendlesham from the title, though in the conditions of the race it probably stated ‘registered as Rendlesham Hurdle’. Why couldn’t it be called the Betfair sponsored Rendlesham Hurdle? Why?
I would like to see Newbury, for instance, put up a Cup for the 3-mile 2-furlong handicap chase run in November, as would have been done when the sport was in its infancy, and apply it to the Ladbroke sponsored Newbury Steeplechase or whatever they might like to call it. It’s not like the above mentioned race is not Newbury’s most important race of the year!
A proper race title affords a race dignity, a sporting entity in its own right, separating it from the commercial reality of hard business. I am all for racecourses brown-nosing sponsors, allowing them as much exposure as possible, but good relationships tend to last longer and with greater admiration on both sides when it is decided early on who is the master and who the respected servant.
By the way, it is the race that should be the master. Betfair, after all, got more out of Kauto Star than the great horse got out of Betfair!
Keith Knight is a workaday writer of fiction, worker in the real world but foremost a horse racing fanatic. The joy of the sport is the horse - all horses.