Tony Wells - Racegoers Club column January 2024

29 December 2023

As it’s the start of the year I thought it would be a good time to share my hopes and dreams for racing in 2024 with you. So, in no particular order, here’s my list of what I’m hoping for this year.

  1. Constitution Hill to remain unbeaten this season and continue to delight his fans with more spectacular displays of his brilliance. Racing needs champions and he’s the best hurdler we’ve seen since Istabraq. He might just be the best hurdler we’ve ever seen. He’s the current flag bearer and long may it continue.
  2. In my opinion, if any owner deserves to be successful at the Cheltenham Festival, it has to be the Gredley Family. Their decision to send Burdett Road hurdling rather than cash in and allow him to disappear from these shores to continue his career in Hong Kong, America or Australia, deserves to be rewarded. The days when a classy flat horse embarked on a successful juvenile hurdling campaign seems a distant memory. Those of us old enough to remember, will recall the likes of Kribensis winning the Triumph Hurdle, before becoming a Champion Hurdler. It would evoke those memories if Burdett Road could follow in his footsteps and become a festival winner. And who knows, it might just encourage other owners to campaign their classy flat horses over hurdles.
  3. The Government to realise the proposed affordability checks will cause irreparable damage to the sport of horse racing. A lot of damage has already been done with several people no longer betting with UK regulated bookmakers. The more that punters are driven towards black market bookies, the worse it will be for the vulnerable people the Gambling Commission are trying to protect. Failure to realise that the current proposals are flawed will see dire consequences for the sport in this country. And individuals suffering from gambling addiction will disappear from sight of the regulated bookmakers into the unseen world of black market bookies.
  4. The reduction of the Grand National field to 34 runners does not result in the greatest race being reduced to a private affair between the ‘Super Trainers’. We’ve already seen the plethora of runners from Gordon Elliott’s stable in the Troy Town chase. A repeat of that along with a battalion of runners from the Willie Mullins yard could render the National an Irish dominated race, where young improving horses from UK yards are denied the opportunity to contest the race, as they are not rated high enough. I fear that Aintree’s well intentioned changes have not factored in the consequences of those changes. A simple change to include the winners of trial races irrespective of their BHA rating could solve the problem, although it’s too late for this year’s National.
  5. No repeat of the Animal Rising protests that we saw in 2023. The Jockey Club and the Epsom team, along with Surrey Police handled the threat to the Derby extremely well. So well in fact, that we didn’t see a repeat of Animal Rising protests for the remainder of 2023. We must hope that Animal Rising have now realised their ill thought out plan to eradicate horse racing from the sporting calendar is over. But racing needs to be vigilant in case Animal Rising or another protest group decides to target racing again. The lessons learned by the teams at Aintree and Epsom will hopefully prevent a repeat of the disruption to racegoers and participants.
  6. City Of Troy to train on. Coolmore have had many fantastic horses over the years, but they have never had a Frankel or a Sea The Stars. In City Of Troy, they might just have the superstar they crave. His performances as a 2yo have whetted our appetites for what he may be able to do as a 3yo. For Ryan Moore to have to send him on earlier than he wanted to in the Superlative Stakes at Newmarket, because he was concerned that he may not have enough room to pull him up after the line was remarkable. The prospect of seeing him do something similarly spectacular in the 2000 Guineas and/or the Derby is mouth watering. And then to see him take on the older horses in all those great races that Frankel and Sea the Stars contested might be too much to hope for, but we can dream, can’t we?

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