The Qipco Champions series, despite the good intentions inherent in its conception, is both specious and irrelevant. Champions Day rarely crowns an equine champion, with even the human champions considered by the majority to be unworthy of the crown given that more than one of the ‘beaten’ jockeys, namely Adam Kirby or Luke Morris, will actually ride more winners in the turf season than the man who gets his hands on the trophy.
The Flat Season suffers through not having any sort of climax, a situation Champions Day has failed to conquer. National Hunt rises to a crescendo at the end of its season, whereas the flat has its top meetings in high summer, and with so many valuable races scattered throughout Europe and beyond there is no incentive for owners and trainers to keep their best horses to challenge each other in the major races of the autumn, with even the Arc these days merely an option rather a than a date set in stone.
There is no solution to the situation. The flat programme is a mixture of the archaic and the hastily fashioned and there is nothing anyone can dream up to return us to the days when the St.Leger was a prize of distinction and the Arc the greatest flat race in the world. Ah, the good old days!
As I suggest, the Qipco Champion Series fails to deliver the champions it sets out to create. It rambles through the season in the manner of a pick-pocket working Oxford Street on a busy Saturday and I suspect only the very best of anoraks can name the individual races that comprise the individual categories of champions.
We could simplify the concept, and still keep the day known as ‘Champions day’, by dropping the word ‘champion’ and replacing it with the term ‘Triple Crown’ and adding sprint, stayer, miler, middle-distance etc.
I propose a Triple Crown series for sprinters, milers, middle distance and stayers, with a six-furlong triple crown for two-year-old colts and fillies. Two races in each category will be nominated to be the first two legs with the third leg run on what is now ‘Champions Day’. In the sprint division it might be the King’s Stand Stakes and the Nunthorpe. The mile division might be the Lockinge and the Sussex Stakes. The Stayers division the Ascot Gold Cup and the Goodwood Cup.
There is, I believe, a duty to ensure the Arc does not lose prestige by the invention of any new race or race meeting and should remain the pinnacle for mile and a half horses, so I suggest the Triple Crown for middle distance horses should be over a mile and a quarter, with perhaps any Triple Crown for a mile and a half horses competed for across Europe, with the Arc as the final leg.
Of course it will not be every year a Triple Crown winner will be decided at Ascot. In some years one horse will dominate one of the categories and in another year no horse will dominate any of the categories, though I doubt if a year will go by when at least one horse does not go for the Triple Crown in at least one of the categories.
Personally I would like my proposed Triple Crown races, with the obvious exception of the two-year-old races, to be confined to older horse to offer an incentive to owners/breeders/trainers to keep the top three-year-olds in training for a third season and encourage the idea of finding out the true merits of a horse rather than the present rationale of not endangering the stud value of a potential stallion by running the risk of racing them in races they might not necessarily win. If only there were more of the mindset of John Hislop who set out to prove Brigadier Gerard’s true merit by testing his metal in races, as he did in the King George and Queen Elisabeth, where going, distance and weight-for-age, were not always in his favour.
Flat racing has a burning need for equine stars. Brilliant stars that light and delight the racecourse for more than a single season. One season wonders are shooting stars, useless for the marketing of the sport. The top owner/breeders are ruining the sport. They are investment bankers, commercial giants, empire builders. They are not sporting men. If Frankel had stayed in training as a five-year-old not only would the question of who is the greatest flat horse of all time be rendered moot but the sport would have benefited to a degree that only National Hunt can boast. Yet apparently we all had to be grateful to Prince Khalid for keeping the horse in training as long as he did. But then in his first season at stud Frankel did add 15-million quid to the Prince’s unimaginable wealth.
To my mind every encouragement should be offered to owners to keep their best horses in training for as long as possible. When Sea The Stars retired to stud at the end of its three-year-old season John Oxx said the horse had nothing else to prove and no one in the racing media challenged him. If an owner is too gutless to keep a horse in training beyond its three-year-old season I doubt if my idea of a Triple Crown series will change matters. But I do think winning a Triple Crown will carry more prestige than earning enough points to be declared a Qipco Series Champion. After all, who can name the winners of each of last year’s categories?
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.