Racing: Title of Stayers' Hurdle dumped by Cheltenham
Monday 06 September 2004
Every man has his price. For Judas, it was 30 pieces of silver; for Esau, when he sold his birthright to Jacob, a mess of potage. The authorities at Cheltenham yesterday announced, with pride, that they have consigned the title of the Stayers' Hurdle to the dustbin in exchange for a bookmaker-funded prize-money boost.
The effect of the change of name for the race that will be the feature of the third day of the newly expanded four-day extravaganza in March will not be as profound as the examples cited. But in racing's own little world, there is an important principal being ridden over roughshod.
One of the strengths of this sport is continuity. An individual race may present a thrilling spectacle in the instant but without its roll of honour, its history, its relevance is diminished. The name of a long-established contest is part of that identity.
It is true that the Stayers' Hurdle is one of the youngest races at the Festival, having replaced the Spa Hurdle in 1972. But in 32 years is has become an integral part of the meeting's fabric. The quality of recent winners is testament to that.
But it is now to be known, mystifyingly, as the World Hurdle. The Cheltenham managing director, Edward Gillespie, adopted PR-speak yesterday, using words like "thrilled", "40 per cent uplift in value", "Ladbrokes" and "rebranding". Rebranding? What was wrong with the old branding? As did the old football league Division One, the Stayers' Hurdle told it on the tin exactly according to contents. The 3m race will still be the long-distance championship, but "World Hurdle" has no meaning and as much relevance in global sporting terms as the World Series in baseball.
With the Gold Cup moving to Friday, the £200,000 marathon will have centre stage on Thursday, backed up by the Mildmay of Flete Chase, National Hunt Chase, Festival Chase, Pertemps Hurdle Final, plus a new £80,000 2m 5f novices' handicap chase.
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