Racing on an artificial surface was introduced in this country 16 years ago as a stopgap for the occasions when jump racing was abandoned. That is actually the case today, with the waterlogging of Carlisle and Stratford, but the newest branch of the sport is now more than mere betting-fodder. It has a life, identity and personalities of its own and, with prize-money of £5m, provides a myriad of opportunities on the human and equine front.
Take a horse like Eccentric, last season's all-weather champion. The four-year-old has won seven races at Lingfield, culminating in the Winter Derby at the Surrey track in March. Having found his strength, he transferred his abilities to turf for two good wins during the summer and has earned nearly £220,000. Yesterday his invitation to take part in the Japan Cup Dirt, a $2.25m (£1.3m) contest in Tokyo this month, was confirmed. Not bad for a horse who finished last of 15 on his debut two years ago.
Eccentric's season will now be geared to the Far East and then another burgeoning modern phenomenon, the Dubai Carnival meeting after the turn of the year. However, his trainer, Andrew Reid, may have another secret weapon in the shape of a beast called Freddy, a one-time Argentinian champion. "He's interesting," he said. "He won a Classic and five Group Ones in South America, and then went to California and did nothing."
One of the curiosities about the Flat championships handed out on Saturday is that they run not annually but for an arbitrary period, the start of the turf season in March until its end, yet include all-weather racing within that timeframe. Judged on that basis Neil Callan was only the seventh-best jockey in Britain with 95 victories, yet this year as a whole, on the 142-mark, only Spencer has ridden more winners.
Callan was leading all-weather rider last winter season with a record 70 successful mounts and rode that crested wave through the turf programme to score the first Group One winners of his career on the Kevin Ryan-trained Amadeus Wolf in the Middle Park Stakes and Palace Episode in the Racing Post Trophy. He starts the defence of his winter title today with two mounts, on Mistatake for Ryan and on the German raider Polar Dancer.
"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "Some of the boys go away but Kevin has a good team to run through the winter and I think it's best to stay here. It's good to keep your name about."
Callan, too, nominates one to follow. "We have a particularly decent horse, Quiet Times. He won a few last year but we've saved him for the all-weather because he's not really a grass horse. We took him to Dubai last year but he wasn't quite up to it on that deep surface, so we've saved him and he's dropped a few pounds."
Yesterday at Leopardstown the Flat season ended in Ireland, where there is not yet an all-weather track. Pat Smullen is champion rider for the third time, injured Fran Berry runner-up and in third Kieren Fallon. His stable, that of Aidan O'Brien tops the trainers' table for the eighth time.
The day's feature, the November Handicap, was tinged with drama. The winner, Golden Cross, who beat Virginia Woolf by a neck, survived a stewards' inquiry after interfering with Solerina, who finished third but was disqualified after her apprentice rider weighed in light. Golden Cross will resume his hurdling career at Fairyhouse next month en route to the World Hurdle at Cheltenham.
A minor problem rule Beef Or Salmon out of Leopardstown's two-mile Flat race minutes before the off. He had been rerouted there after Saturday's James Nicholson Champion Chase at Down Royal was lost because of a hoax security alert. The nine-year-old is still on target for the Betfair Chase at Haydock on Saturday week.
After Celtic Son's impressive fencing debut at Wincanton on Saturday, another name was tossed into the Royal & SunAlliance Chase hat when Monet's Garden followed suit at Ayr yesterday, winning a novices' chase by nine lengths. The Nicky Richards-trained grey was the third leg of a four-timer for Tony Dobbin.
In France, the sole British raider at Auteuil's new, valuable but ill-timed international meeting, Tidal Fury, won the €250,000 juvenile hurdle contest. The three-year-old, a six-length winner under Dean Gallagher, hails from one of Newmarket's smallest yards, that of Jonathan Jay.
Nap: Lisfannon (Wolverhampton 2.30)
- More about:
- Eastern Asia (the Far East)
- Festive Events (including Carnivals)