Tis the season to be jolly -- and racing has more reason than most sports to celebrate glad tidings and to espouse goodwill to all men.
The critics, the cynics and the conspiracy theorists might continue to peddle their lazy, easy, ‘let’s-have-a-go-at-the-BHA’ claptrap. But two recent stories illuminated the good place racing is in this Christmas.
The first disclosed that the sport is, by far, the second most-attended in the country, behind football. More than seven million people per year now go racing and of the four most popular sporting events in the UK this year, four were Royal Ascot, the Cheltenham Festival, the Derby meeting at Epsom and the Grand National meeting at Aintree.
The figures reflect the tremendous achievements of racecourses to maintain the appeal of racing amid the long economic downturn. They must also be handy when it comes to securing sponsorship deals and other commercial packages, which brings me nicely on to the second positive story -- the jaw-dropping backing by Qatar for Glorious Goodwood, announced at the start of the week.
As someone who has been making an annual pilgrimage to the Sussex Downs since the 1980s, I suggest this is the Christmas present to top the lot. Not only is the deal worth more than £25 million, rocketing prize money towards unprecedented levels, it is also signed and sealed for fully TEN years.
Providing Qatar do not feel their support entitles them to tinker and tamper too much with the unique charms and traditions of Goodwood, they are to be congratulated, Judging by the comments of track owner Lord March, who has now accepted the folly of re-naming the Stewards’ Cup, the partnership should herald exciting times.
Excitement is obviously the buzzword for so many reasons at this time of year -- not least because racing dishes up a feast of top-class action across the UK and Ireland.
Kempton’s two-day King George festival, sponsored by William Hill, is followed over here by the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on Saturday, Newbury’s Grade One Challow Hurdle Day on Monday and Cheltenham fare on New Year’s Day. And that is all supplemented across the Irish Sea by a four-day spectacular at Leopardstown.
We all like a fun flutter on Boxing Day, so I’ve been burning a bit of midnight Christmas oil to come up with these tips across the many meetings taking place:
12.50 Jollyallan, 1.25 Knock House, 2.00 Sausalito Sunrise, 2.35 Sign Of A Victory, 3.10 (William Hill King George VI Chase) 1 SILVINIACO CONTI, 2 Dynaste, 3 Al Ferof, 3.45 Alternatif.
12.10 Wilcos Mo Chara, 12.40 Chidswell.
3.15 Madame Trigger.
1.45 Corrin Wood.
1.40 Champagne At Tara, 3.55 Fortunate George.
12.15 Ordinary World, 1.20 Kalkir, 2.55 Vautour.