Racing: Ascot's axe cuts long history short: Officials are under pressure to go the extra mile to preserve one of the major staying prizes

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The Independent Online
BRITISH racing officials have for some time been shooting themselves in the foot with the abandon of a centipede, and a practice which will ultimately culminate in terminal self- mutilation has continued with the suggestion that the sport's longest Flat race should go.

From next year's Royal meeting at Ascot, it is proposed that the Queen Alexandra Stakes be reduced in distance from two and three- quarter miles to a 10-furlong handicap and consequently reduced to just another event which will make more money for the bookmakers.

Out will go the memories of a 129-year history. Out will go the vision of Brown Jack, who made this race his own between 1929 and 1934, when no other horse could get near him. And out will go a sliver of racing's heritage.

Britain's status as a racing nation is being inexorably whittled away. Shabby facilities, skimpy prize-money and the removal of the best stock are repelling many, and just about the only constant the sport maintains is its variety. Its variety in courses and events.

Nicholas Beaumont, the Ascot clerk of the course, claims the Queen Alexandra Stakes is won by 'not very good hurdlers these days'. By this he can only mean Sprowston Boy, the 1987 victor.

'Yes, the race has been won by hurdlers, but most of the household names have hurdled at some time or other,' Peter O'Sullevan, the 'Voice Of Racing' and a recent addition to a petition insisting the Queen Alexandra be left alone, said yesterday. 'Horses like Arkle, Desert Orchid and Red Rum.

'Tradition plays such a big part in the fabric of racing, and the Queen Alexandra is a part of the fabric of Ascot.'

The timing of this mooted change is no less inauspicious as it comes at the end of the year when the greatest single achievement by a horse from these islands was from a hurdler, Vintage Crop, and in a distance race, the Melbourne Cup. 'This idea makes about as much sense as the Victoria Racing Club all of a sudden reducing the Melbourne Cup from two miles to five furlongs,' O'Sullevan added.

Flat trainers such as Harry Thomson Jones and Peter Walwyn have been disturbed by the proposal and the precedent. If staying events such as this are to be snipped from the calendar, Britain is in danger of going the way of the United States, where races outside the seven- to 10-furlong band are difficult to find.

This emphasis on races around a mile and the unceasing influx of American-bred thoroughbreds to these shores may also explain why the Derby is becoming a less compelling event, a race fought out by diminishing numbers of horses who actually stay 12 furlongs.

And if the Queen Alexandra goes, so will a fountainhead of jumping sires which stretches back decades. 'It's been a sound source for National Hunt stallions in post-War years, starting with Vulgan in 1948, who was one of the most prolific jumping stallions of the era,' O'Sullevan said. 'Other notable horses who have been beaten in it include Mandalus, who has done extremely well as a sire.

'This is a race which requires guts, stamina and courage to win. It would be a mistake to lose it.'

(Photograph omitted)