With the news that doping has re-emerged - and confirmation by the Jockey Club that the number of horses in training will have fallen 17 per cent since 1991 by the end of this year - the sport could be forgiven for assuming a dim view of itself this afternoon while trying to muster enthusiasm for the Racing Post Chase at Kempton and the Greenalls Gold Cup at Haydock. Thank goodness for leafy Lingfield.
And thank goodness that despite losing some of the best years of his racing life to injury, Blazing Walker at last has an opportunity to establish himself as a front-line Gold Cup contender. This horse, remember, was ranked second only to Desert Orchid two seasons back, and in winning the Melling Chase at Aintree in April 1991 produced one of the best performances by a steeplechaser in living memory.
Look it up. Behind him that day were Katabatic, Waterloo Boy, Sabin Du Loir and Barnbrook Again, and this was on a track that was supposed to ill-suit Blazing Walker because of his tendency to jump to the right. For that victory alone, he earnt a place in the ultra-elite to which Desert Orchid himself and Remittance Man have been the only other obvious recruits in recent years.
Time has laid a dust over those achievements, though, and for Blazing Walker to dispute favouritism for the Gold Cup he must dispatch a tough band of rivals today. Now is the time to discover whether his stamina is likely to stretch to the three and a quarter miles of Cheltenham, and whether 22 months in dock have deprived him of the ground-drumming pace he showed at Liverpool.
The obstacles are many. Among them Romany King, third here last season and second in the Grand National, is primed to secure a big payout before he again encounters the pain of Aintree. Spare a thought, too, for Gold Options, a class act despite being lazier than a cat (his trainer, Jimmy Fitzgerald says: 'he goes as fast as he wants to and that's it. A jockey would kill himself trying to ride him without blinkers').
Training problems will also dominate the post-race talk after the horse who beat Romany King at Liverpool - Party Politics - has tackled Twin Oaks, Otterburn House and company at Haydock. Party Politics has been pulled up in both his races this season, but before anybody starts to enjoy the irony of a horse so named performing like a no-hoper, it is worth recalling that this monster of an animal broke a blood vessel on his most recent outing.
Keep an eye, while planning Festival bets, on Baydon Star's showing in the Rendlesham Hurdle at Kempton. After this, he is likely to be confirmed a runner in the Stayers' Hurdle, but there is still a chance he will enter the Champion Hurdle picture and so further complicate Richard Dunwoody's choice between Morley Street and Flown. Poor Richard.Reuse content