Reading the Racing Post this week it seems the general overview of its journalists is that ‘Champions Day’ is a success, with no tinkering with the format required. From a marketing perspective I would imagine it is a success and 30,000 spectators make a good argument for the defence. And I am quite certain the concept has potential, even if I cannot understand why the major Group 1’s need to be bracketed together to form a league table.
What pulls my chain the most, though, about Champions Day is the title. The title ‘Champions Day’ promises a day of champions, and as the central spectacle of the day is horse racing the title suggests an array of equine champions, of which this year there were few, though by its conclusion Cracksman had perhaps saved the day. But equine champions are not what Champions Day is about, even if the racing can be, weather permitting, out of the top drawer. If only Ascot could have promised the spectators Enable and Winx, true champions, the title would not be subject to the trades descriptions act and the racecourse would have resembled an Indian commuter train.
Of course the day is truly Qipco Champions Day, with the day spawning five Qipco champions and the sponsorship of Qipco should not be undervalued. But who remembers the names of the Qipco Champions twelve months later or indeed one week later? So why not title the day Qipco Day. They throw enough money at the event; why not umbrella the whole day under their branding.
In my previous piece on this subject I suggested, radically, moving ‘Qipco Day’ to the start of the season, mainly as an incentive for owner/breeders to keep their good horses in training beyond their 3-year-old careers. This may seem a barnpot idea. But think on. Already Group horses are sent to Dubai for the Dubai Carnival, which allows for the two events – ‘Qipco Day’ and the Dubai Carnival – to work hand-in-hand. Also, the general criticism of the flat is that it begins not with a bang but a whimper and this idea will knock the whimper into the North Sea, if not the Norwegian fjords.
If by some unlikely event my idea is implemented the turf flat season could begin as tradition dictates with the Lincoln, with perhaps trials for the races chosen for ‘Qipco Day’ added, with the big day two weeks later, allowing the Group I horses time to relax and recuperate before the big summer meetings come around.
Give it some thought: the glory and high sporting profile of the Cheltenham Festival, the Grand National and then ‘Qipco Day’. Three meetings that will keep the sporting eye on horse racing over a period six, seven or eight weeks.
Now, the contentious issue of the ground. At Ascot in October the odds are that the ground will be soft, though the same can be said for April. But that is not necessarily so. Both Cheltenham and Aintree invariably have to water to retain safe ground and the shift in our weather patterns suggest firmer ground for spring than for autumn will become the norm. But in this country who can be sure. A ‘Qipco Day’ in April could be lost to either frost or snow. In that eventuality it could be rescheduled, whereas at present in October if the meeting is lost to waterlogging I doubt if it would be practical to reschedule.
Of course the big stumbling block to a blockbuster start to the British Turf Season with ‘Qipco Day’ is the European Pattern Committee, though as there are few Group 1’s in Europe in April I think they may find the proposal acceptable, if not downright attractive. If I had my way, which is highly unlikely, there would be six Group 1 races, not five, with a Group 1 established either over 7-furlongs or 1-mile and a half. I would suggest a Group 1 for 3-year-olds but I suspect that is not viable with all the Guineas races only a few weeks away.
I would return the Champion Stakes to Newmarket, its spiritual home and put in its place on ‘Qipco Day’ a new 1-mile 2-furlongs race, with consideration given to naming it after Frankel. The Frankel Stakes has a ring to it. And I would return the Royal Lodge to Ascot. But that is a discussion for another day.
If we were to launch the new flat season every year with a 40-runner Lincoln Handicap started from a barrier as in the days of yore, allowing the flat a race that is as different from the norm as the Grand National is to every other jump race, followed two weeks later by a ‘Qipco Day’ with 6 Group 1’s, the spring sporting programme would belong to horse racing.
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.