Marten’s Perspective: The Joy of Jumping
October 12th, 2012 | Marten's Perspective
As I write this, on a Friday in mid-October, Carlisle is hosting their first jumps meeting of the season.
As you may be aware I am based in the South Lakes, so Carlisle is just an hour up the road from me. Despite the wonderful setting of the track, just south of the town, there is a whole world of difference in the atmosphere there between a jumps meeting and one on the Flat.
The flat racing at Carlisle is of a very average quality, while jumping fixtures can attract top-class prospects often from leading yards. The track is stiff but fair, with well-built fences and a steep rise from the home turn to the winning post, so it provides a good test for horses with a surfeit of stamina over speed.
When I speak to people about racing it is around this time of year that I most often discern a twinkle in their eye as they look forward to the months ahead.
Betting is not, it seems, as much of a consideration for followers of jumping. Yes, they like to get involved now and again, but for the most part their interest is more of an aesthetic involvement than punting.
This summer has been especially interesting because in Frankel we have witnessed the type of horse which comes along once in a generation on the Flat.
Yet, for all the following he now commands, Frankel does not engender the love and affection that, say, Desert Orchid or Red Rum did over jumps.
Frankel has, unlike many top-class performers on the Flat, raced for three seasons. However that does not compare with the number of seasons a jumper will race. Indeed, I would wager that more people outside the racing community have heard of Kauto Star than Frankel.
I suppose one reason why jumping warms the heart is because of the settings. It moves the spirit to stand beside the last fence on a winter’s afternoon with the backdrop of the dipping sun. Even wet, windy afternoons at Carlisle have a special charm, while the racecourse bars are never more welcoming than when conditions outside become hostile.
The other thing that jump racing brings to its followers is a wide variety of characters.
Would Red Rum have become such a national treasure without Ginger McCain, who trained from a backstreet in Southport and became inextricably linked with the great horse? The same comment applies to David Elsworth, who talked about Desert Orchid with such eloquence and insight.
By the way, you may not know that Desert Orchid’s part-owner Richard Burridge originally had Mary Reveley in mind for the grey. With no disrespect to ‘the canny granny’, as she became known, post-race interviews would not have been the same had the original plan come to fruition.
This season we have the always entertaining Peter Casey, trainer of Flemenstar, to look forward to. Anyone who witnessed his post-race interview with Tracy Piggott following his horse’s victory at Leopardstown last January will share my sense of anticipation (refer to You Tube for further insight).
Then, again, I can’t wait to hear Anthony Knott building up a head of steam when Hunt Ball reappears on the track. Here is a man who has charge of 260 dairy cattle and bets as if there is no settling day. His enthusiasm is a refreshing change to his counterparts on the Flat, many of whom seem more focused on commercial considerations.
Jump racing has the drama, thrill and excitement of theatre at its best. It also, sadly, has its tragedy. Horses get injured and die, both on the track and at home. We lost a serious talent just this summer when Brindisi Breeze died in a freak accident at home in May, although that was put into even grimmer perspective when the horse’s rider Campbell Gillies died a month later while away on holiday.
Life is not an unmitigated bundle of joy – it as a panoply of emotions – and so is jump racing. The same cannot be said of the Flat.
In the course of my work I have the opportunity to acquire an early insight into what lies ahead. I usually have to write my Jumps Guide during the months of August and September when, most years, the weather is warm and the evenings long. It is both a rewarding and challenging diversion from as many as eight flat meetings a day, mostly of a mediocre standard, to research jumpers.
It is not quite the same writing the Dark Horses Flat Guide for the Flat in January, when invariably here in the Lakes I am trapped inside and surrounded by snowdrifts and howling gales.
Moving along to the season ahead, I approved the copy for the Dark Horses Jumps Guide a few days ago, so it should be out in the next fortnight or so.
This season promises to be as exciting as others, with some old favourites still around and fresh talent waiting in the wings. Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls are typically strong, but Donald McCain has acquired one of the most exciting teams of jumpers we have seen in the north since the days of Peter Easterby and Michael Dickinson.
I have been asked over the years whether I prefer the jumps or the Flat. Although my results on the Flat are probably better, my heart lies with the jumpers.
When thinking about the great days I have spent racing, perhaps the only one from the Flat in recent times which has elicited an emotional response was the day Frankel won the 2,000 Guineas. That was the only time I have witnessed applause break out for a horse at the halfway stage of a race.
The other was when I saw Arazi win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs in 1991. That was a truly extraordinary performance and well worth a look on You Tube if you have not seen it. Frankel powered away from flagfall, while Arazi scythed through the field as if he had just joined in at halfway.
Yet during the jumping season there is seldom a week when I do not witness a feat of great horsemanship or an exhibition of brilliant jumping.
Racing is, and will remain, a conundrum to much sharper minds than ours. That is its challenge to the intellect.
Yet when it comes to moving the spirit there is nothing to compare with the sight of a horse and rider hurtling towards the last fence urged on and buoyed by the roar of the crowd.
Now that is something I will always want to be a part of.