Punters will have a new racecourse name to scrawl on betting slips next year, with eight fixtures having been awarded to the track at Ffos Las in South Wales, which is due to open in June. Sceptics who endured the anticlimax of the multiple postponements before the eventual opening this year of the track at Great Leighs in Essex, will not be in a rush to obtain tickets for the opening day. Nevertheless, to have two new racecourses added to the roster reflects well on the health of racing after half a century of track closures.
More surprising is that for the first time in living memory there has not been an expansion of the fixture list, with the British Horseracing Authority at last deciding that saturation point had been reached. Thus, on the 2009 fixture list published yesterday there will be 1,480 meetings, 24 fewer than this year.
Much to the relief of professionals in the industry, particularly stable staff, there will be some respite from racing seven days a week for 52 weeks of the year, with a return to some blank days in the calendar. There are only four of them, however, one Sunday in each of January, February, March and December.
Those that have been opposed to Sunday racing have regularly asked the question "why bother?" given that the quality of the sport on that day is generally low. The BHA has responded to this by encouraging some "underperforming" fixtures to relocate to other days on the fixture list.
Conversely, the health of National Hunt racing is reflected in the fact that there will be 567 jump fixtures, a record and an increase of 11 on this season.
Those who like to pencil in their major race dates well in advance will need to know that the Cheltenham Festival will run from 10 to 13 March next year, the Grand National will be on 4 April, the Derby on 6 June and Royal Ascot from 16 to 20 June.
More pertinently, the Newmarket Guineas meeting will be staged on 2 and 3 May, so those who have already backed Cuis Ghaire in to favouritism for the 1,000, or Rip Van Winkle for the 2,000 Guineas have only just over another nine months to sweat over their ante-post slips.
They will also be able to check on the progress of both juveniles tonight when they take each other on in the Tyros Stakes at Leopardstown, a race won in the past three years by Cuis Ghaire's trainer, Jim Bolger, notably by Teofilo in 2006 and New Approach last year.
Both Bolger and Aidan O' Brien, Rip Van Winkle's trainer, will hardly want a hard-fought battle at this stage of their careers for the two offspring of Galileo and, in what may develop into a tactical affair, it may be folly to overlook Vilasol, who has the quiet confidence of his trainer, Kevin Prendergast. "I think the seven furlongs will suit him and I'm hoping for a big run," he said yesterday.
O'Brien's 2,000 Guineas winner this year, Henrythenavigator, is presenting his trainer with a problem in advance of his return to the track in next Wednesday's Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood. Even with the high-class firepower available to Ballydoyle, O'Brien has been unable to provide a suitable working companion to stretch the colt.
"Henry is a very classy horse and he is going through lead horses like they are going out of fashion," the trainer said. "He takes his work so well and enjoys his work. He likes to have a good companion, but it is difficult to find one to match strides with him."
O'Brien's Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Halfway To Heaven is to be stepped up to a mile and a quarter for Goodwood's Nassau Stakes on Saturday week.
1,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 3 May 2009) Ladbrokes: 8-1 Cuis Ghaire, 14-1 Shimah, 25-1 Fantasia, 33-1 Faraway Flower, Langs Lashes, 40-1 Please Sing.
2,000 GUINEAS (Newmarket, 2 May 2009) Ladbrokes: 14-1 Art Connoisseur, Zacinto, 16-1 Rip Van Winkle, 20-1 Mastercraftsman, 25-1 Bushranger, 33-1 Alhaban, Arazan, Intense Focus, Orizaba.
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