Celebrate turf's rich heritage with the Jubilee

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The Independent Online

Today should be Jubilee Handicap day at Kempton Park, just as it has been, once a year, for more than a century. Though it has slipped a little in racing's pecking order since the early years of the 20th century, when it rivalled the Cambridgeshire and Stewards' Cup in importance, the Jubilee has one of the richest histories of any event in the calendar. It was in this race in 1903 that Ypsilanti landed one of the biggest gambles ever seen on the British turf, taking about £90,000 - the equivalent of at least £4m today - out of the ring. The following year, he won it again, giving 48lb to the runner-up. The Jubilee, like many other long-standing British handicaps, is a race to honour and cherish.

Today should be Jubilee Handicap day at Kempton Park, just as it has been, once a year, for more than a century. Though it has slipped a little in racing's pecking order since the early years of the 20th century, when it rivalled the Cambridgeshire and Stewards' Cup in importance, the Jubilee has one of the richest histories of any event in the calendar. It was in this race in 1903 that Ypsilanti landed one of the biggest gambles ever seen on the British turf, taking about £90,000 - the equivalent of at least £4m today - out of the ring. The following year, he won it again, giving 48lb to the runner-up. The Jubilee, like many other long-standing British handicaps, is a race to honour and cherish.

Not for nothing is the one-mile course at Kempton officially called the Jubilee course. Yet thanks to a noxious mixture of arrogance and greed, today is no longer Jubilee Handicap day. The arrogance belongs to George Ward, the boss of the Grunwick film processing business, which sponsors the card at Kempton this afternoon. The greed is provided by United Racecourses, the track's owners, which like so many racecourse managements these days, is apparently prepared to do anything for money.

So it is that at a stroke of the pen, Ward and United Racecourses believe they have effectively scratched the Jubilee from the calendar. Today's race will instead be known as the Doubleprint Stakes. As Mercutio had it with his dying breath in Romeo and Juliet, "a plague o' both your houses".

Ward's contempt for the rich history of the turf should, of course, come as no surprise. Last season, he inflicted a similar indignity on the Greenham Stakes at Newbury and the Henry II Stakes at Sandown. Stung by the criticisms of those who liked the race-names the way they were, he has now abandoned Group-race sponsorship, and moved on to handicaps, reckoning them a softer target. What he and the courses concerned fail to realise, however, is that handicaps are every bit as integral as the Pattern races to the tradition and appeal of racing.

"It seems slightly incongruous," Ward told a press conference last week, "that in these days when you have to attract new people that we have stuck with names like Fred Darling, Greenham, Musidora and Lupe. I don't think names like that are particularly marketable for a new, young audience."

Coming from a man who has built up a large and successful business - albeit on the back of employment practices in the 1970s which prompted mass demonstrations outside his factory gates - this is a statement of stunning ignorance. It is precisely racing's sense of heritage, its intimate links to the great horses, trainers and jockeys of the past who have walked and galloped on the same turf as those of today, which is a cornerstone of its appeal. Without that, there is no sport of racing, merely a collection of races.

No-one can doubt that Ward has put a good deal of money into British racing over the years. This season, his sponsorships will amount to £500,000. To hear him talk, though, you could be forgiven for thinking that these were charitable donations.

In fact, the rule of thumb in sports sponsorship is that the sponsor should expect to receive, in terms of publicity, seven times their investment. In other words, Ward may be giving racing £500,000, but racing is giving him at least £3.5m-worth of exposure in return.

The tracks concerned should stand in the dock alongside Ward. While the dumping of traditional titles is clearly in his commercial interest, the courses should know better. After the PR débâcle of Newmarket's new Millennium Grandstand, however, when annual members of many years' standing found they had been shoved aside to make way for corporate entertainment, perhaps we should not be surprised. The courses only aim seems to be to make as much money as possible, as easily as possible, and if the ordinary paying punters don't like it, tough.

The Independent will do what it can to resist this trend, and refer to historic races by the names which the Gods of the turf intended. Readers who concur may wish to consider taking their films to Boots, and dropping George Ward a line - perhaps in one of those envelopes which are forever falling out of colour supplements - to let him know why.

Ward himself has a runner in today's Jubilee Handicap, and one with a fair chance on the book in Smart Savannah. Roger Charlton's season has barely begun, however, with just two winners from 18 runners, and horses like Tayseer, Brilliant Red and Pulau Tioman, who won the Rosebery over course and distance seven days ago, are more obvious candidates.

The best value, though, may be STOPPES BROW (nap 3.15), who failed to stay in the City & Suburban Handicap at Epsom last Wednesday. Back over a mile, and fairly weighted on last season's form, he could return to his best today. What's more, he is a 33-1 chance this morning to do so, so you need not risk too much to find out, while Kathakali (2.10), his stablemate Clarendon (next best 2.40) and May Contessa (3.45) look the pick of their fields.

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