When summer jumping was born the outcry from both the public and owners and trainers was that great injury to horses would be incurred due to the firm ground prevalent in the months of June and July. Of course since those heady days when the British weather could be depended upon June and July have trialled the prospect of becoming monsoon months, rendering moot both the directive to come and the concern about ground conditions. To counter the outcry the B.H.A., (or was it still the Jockey Club?) decreed that racecourses must ensure ground no worse than good-to-firm during the period of summer jumping. I immediately recognised the shortcoming in this proposal and wrote the following letter to the Racing Post.
If it is judicious, nay compulsory, for jump courses to produce ground no worse than good to firm during the months of June and July, could someone please explain why it is considered reasonable for jump courses to produce ground as hard as the road during the other 10 months of the year?
If we are talking horse welfare here (which I hope we are) wouldn’t it be more consistent if similar guidelines were laid down for all racecourses all of the time?
When Flat racing’s premier event produces more casualties than the Grand National (why no outcry at the death of Daffaq?) isn’t it time for the racing industry to take a long, hard look at the type of ground horses are subjected to racing on?
Very soon after publication of the letter a rule was brought in that clerks of the courses should abandon a race-meeting at any time of the year if the ground description was to be hard. Nowadays, of course, with all courses having access to watering systems of one sort or another the going is rarely even firm let alone hard.
So I take credit for this horse welfare directive. I have to award myself the credit as no one ever said ‘well done, Keith. Glad you pointed that out the deficiency in our great innovation.’
It is the great underachievement of my life, failing to win influence on a sport that is the greatest love of my life. It goes a long way to proving my hypothesis that no matter how dedicated someone is during their life if you were born under the wrong constellation you will never succeed in matters of great importance to you. I have never believed some people are born ‘lucky’, too many have made their own luck in life, but some are certainly born ‘luckless’.
So when I come up with an idea that in concept is both ground-breaking and loaded with great marketing and publicity potential it will either go unnoticed or someone will learn about the idea, tweak it, put it into practise and get all the credit. But here goes anyway!
In America recently and in Australia in the near future nonsense races designed for billionaire owners have been invented that do nothing for racing but fracture the competitiveness of traditional top races. In fact the incessant invention of new races worth millions of pounds to the winner and the resultant hiking up of prize money for traditional big races does nothing but diminish the quality and competitiveness of the sport, especially in Europe. But that is a gripe for another time.
My innovation is similar, I grant you. But with a difference. I propose a one-million pound selling race. Yes, a seller worth a million pounds. The idea is a weight for age selling race, distance to be determined, where the winner cannot be bought in by connections and claims on the beaten runners must start at a million pounds, with the selling price of the winner, less the usual fees, going to a racing charity. I would suggest one of the racehorse retraining charities or divided between them all, though the Injured Jockeys Fund or Racing Welfare could also benefit.
So in summary: the owner of the winning horse would receive one-million pounds but would lose the horse to the highest bidder. Claims could also be placed on the beaten horses but must start at one-million pounds. The winning horse could, of course, be sold for less than a million. The idea being that owners who lose their horse through the auction or to a claim would receive one-million pounds. I propose calling the race ‘The One-Million Pound Selling Race’, prize money to be funded through entry fees, the racecourse hosting the race and no doubt a sponsor.
All that is needed now is someone with influence to read this article and to set the wheels in motion.
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.