In this business you quickly realise returning to old subjects is far from verboten so it remains legitimate to point out – yet again – how Day Three of Cheltenham continues to be the rocky leg of the four day festival stool.
Commercial realities might make the extension of jump racing’s greatest week a non-reversible fact but there is no getting away from another reality that diluting a product too much fundamentally lessens it.
In themselves the twin Grade 1 features of the Ryanair Chase and the Ladbrokes World Hurdle are perfectly worthy, although those of us old enough to remember the old stayers crown can recall how it managed to exist perfectly satisfactorily as a Gold Cup support.
But the feeling of “lull” that Day Three continues to generate during the course of the week cannot be ignored, even by course authorities who normally plug the date with a vengeance. That reality will be emphasised this time round by the sticking of the “St Patrick’s Thursday” label on Day Three.
It is Cheltenham’s marketing misfortune to have St Patrick’s Day fall the day after the festival but the sticking of this Paddy’s Day label on Thursday is hardly coincidental. No doubt we can look forward to plenty of fake beards and green hammers two days before the real thing, as distinct from say, the day before.
This continuing stretching of National Hunt racing’s greatest asset can only go so far however before people start to turn off.
A Cheltenham winner continues to be the ultimate aspiration for many owners, just as it has it has been for years. But at some stage the question of quality has to crop up and there is no doubt but that races like the conditional hurdle and the novice handicap chase are filler and little else. Take Quevega out of the equation and even the mares hurdle has a token vibe to it.
All of which isn’t going to change anything in terms of the four day schedule. But how about a re-think in terms of races? Maybe even the introduction of a high-class two and a half mile hurdle in place of an ordinary handicap?
Well those post-race workouts at Leopardstown were a bust. Just half of the thirty horses appeared and what they did on the flat hardly rose a sweat. Anyone who went to Leopardstown looking for Cheltenham enlightenment will have been left sorely disappointed.
Trainers can hardly be blamed for not risking their charges on ground they figured was too quick, although the official going hardly budged from “good” throughout the week.
But it must have been really frustrating for the Leopardstown authorities who put time and effort into trying to organise it all properly and were left with a damp squib.
But if the idea is to be persisted with next year it isn’t fluctuating weather that should concern Leopardstown but the flaw in the whole thing which is their willingness to allow trainers work their horses in days other than the raceday.
The instinct of most racing professionals is to keep audiences to a minimum so given a choice between working on the Sunday evening in front of hundreds of people and plenty cameras, or showing up the following morning in front of nobody, most will go with the low-profile option.
Anyone with even a shred of sentiment will hope Kauto Star makes it to the Gold Cup. A third blue-riband for the great horse would be the racing story of 2012. But how interesting it was that even the famous bookies grapevine appeared to be caught on the hop by that announcement of a schooling fall – almost a week after it happened.
Even in the digital age, apparently not everything is at the push of a button.