Wiltshire trainers are stepping up the pace as Jumping season builds momentum
This week sees the Jumps calendar step up a gear with 11 fixtures through the week, the first week since last season with more than a single fixture each day. And whilst the cards are slightly shorter than hitherto, fields are holding up well as the horse population grows in preparation for the higher profile fixtures from the start of next month.
Parallel to this, the Point-to-Point season launches in under 4 weeks times as early season fixtures at Bishops Court and Maisemore in Devon and Gloucestershire prepare for the "novelty" of behind closed doors racing. In keeping with the turning of the leaves, Jumping is asserting itself over the last weeks of the Flat season. The first Wiltshire fixture is likely to be the Hursley Hambledon at Larkhill on November 29, but as the implications of Covid - security and the viability of behind closed doors racing become apparent, don't be surprised to see a thinning down of the fixture list.
I'd say the season can't come too soon, but as with all things in our Covid - affected world, sadly the acceleration of the Jumps season is a celebration of autumn with limitations when only the immediate connections of horses may attend. It's simply not the same watching solely on TV. Racing is as much a celebration of the human as the equine spirit, so not being there cannot compete with the wonderful ambiance of a day at the races.
And Covid's impact on racing is creating all sorts of issues further down the food chain too. An amended sales schedule for Tattersalls Cheltenham has been aborted due to the constraints of travelling horses and personnel from Ireland. In place of the Springtime sales, an additional October sale was to have been added to the existing post-racing sales in November and December at Cheltenham. However, the announcement last week that organised sport would not now be permitted to restart with spectators has effectively closed that option. Tattersalls aims to include a new sale of Jumping stock at the home of racing - Newmarket - tacked on to the end of its December yearlings, foals & mares sale, whilst the November sale will be in Ireland.
Rival Goffs will stage a sale of Pointers on November 6, either in Kildare or Doncaster. Bloodstock agent David Minton commented, "I don't think it's a great idea holding the sales in Ireland if British buyers cannot attend." I dare say Irishmen would say the same of Britain, acknowledging that many Irish vendors are aiming for a British market even so. Henry Beeby, Goffs Group CEO, explained, "With the latter part of the 2019-20 point-to-point season cancelled, as well as our highly successful Aintree and Punchestown sales, we have been working to find a solution to get our point-to-point sales back up and running.
"Handlers too are very keen to see a return of point-to-point sales and this new date sits well with the commencement of point-to-points this coming autumn."
Meantime, Wiltshire trainers are flexing their muscles as more and more of their stables come to full strength. Winners for Alan King and Neil Mulholland yesterday at Newton Abbot, and Emma Lavelle today at Bangor, only serve to demonstrate the well-being of the yards that lead Wiltshire's rankings in the Trainers' Championship. No-one is yet challenging Fergal O'Brien, however, who must feel disappointed returning from any fixture without a winner currently. It looks like a summer and change of base have suited him very well.