Milton's Pyramid Place relishes the mud
Let's be honest; Catterick is not at the top of many people's favourite racecourses, although with 28 fixtures each year, there is plenty of opportunity to sample the delights of this garrison town in north Yorkshire. The fare on offer is toward the lower end of the qualitative scale, and fulfils a role for bread and butter racing "for the industry" as Stratford's former Clerk, Commander John Ford, would have said.
However, every horse has its day, and one of Milton Harris's might be deemed even a little greedy. Since being sold from John Gosden's in October last year, the Wiltshire air has allowed him to grow wings. Catterick's 2 mile handicap hurdle this afternoon was his third victory over hurdles since the switch of stables and that tally would be four but for a pesky short head. It certainly makes the 560 mile round trip from Sutton Veny to Catterick rather more bearable.
Milton doesn't come from an orthodox racing background. No farmer's son, he nevertheless announced himself on the scene early in his career as a Point-to-Point graduate, when winning a race I helped devise nearly 20 years ago. Doncaster Bloodstock Sales, (now Goffs) was seeking to bolster the quality of its May sale, and arranged a valuable sales race of £50,000 for any novice chaser sold at that sale, at Cheltenham in December. Milton identified the race quickly as a soft touch (the race didn't last - he was right) and launched front runner Olly McPhail at it. Made all, stayed on gamely from 2 out is the race description.
The loss of a valuable sponsor for a smart and innovative race turned out to be the beginning of an altogether more fruitful relationship with DBS, who then invested in the first breeze-up sale for National Hunt young stock on the opening day of what is now called the International meeting. Horses were breezed on the track before racing, and sold under lights in the smart Centaur building after racing. The effect of tying a sale to a National Hunt race meeting was then an innovation, now standard procedure. There's little doubt that wallet strings are loosened after a day at the sports.
It begs the question as to whether a sale could be contrived around a Point-to-Point fixture. Although the logistics would prevent most fixtures from even taking the idea forward, a hybrid of this would be a selling race. Time was when a majority of horses running between the flags were owner-trained and ridden. Nowadays, certainly in some parts of the country, races are the domain of largely quasi-professional liverymen who are seeking a market for young horses to graduate to professional yards, as they do in Ireland. Embracing that concept in a seller would surely accelerate that market even more, and provide a potential income stream for the fixture.
As if to prove the direction of Pointing, two winners yesterday reinforced the trend of young Pointers graduating to the professional ranks. Benny's Oscar won a Novices Hurdle for Dan Skelton at Warwick, whilst the same card's bumper saw Bishops Court winner Kyntara skate up in her maiden race under Rules for Kim Bailey. In between times, former pointer Sky Pirate took the runner-up berth behind top Arkle hope Allmankind.
In this era of racing without spectators, it's already been proven that innovation is winning through. Racing will need its own share of innovation to get back on its feet. Are we seeing the future of the sport? I think so.