A disappointing April Fool's Day for the lads at Racing For Change. An online search yesterday suggested that the rather laboured canard they distributed on Thursday had been appreciated only at the Coventry Telegraph and Swindon Advertiser, whose readers' credulity was duly tested by a story that the Grand National would in future be run clockwise, to satisfy a European Union directive.
Compare that with last year, when Racing For Change hilariously persuaded dozens of global print, broadcast and media outlets to recycle a genuine crackerjack. Admittedly, the press release may have been sent out on the wrong date. But it is still unbelievable so many people are persevering with the transparent hoax that a British Champions Series, comprising "five easy-to-follow champion categories", will become "a major new premier series of British horseracing". Last week they were even reporting that Qatari sponsors have been talked into lavishing millions on this outrageous bluff.
No points, no prizes – just a brazen stunt by the high priests of the branding cult, achieved through the maddening lie that the Flat season lacks "narrative". Of course, the fabric of the emperor's new clothes is only invisible to those of us unfit for service, or just hopelessly stupid. But perhaps an urchin will emerge from the crowd at Ascot in October, and remark that the winner of the Pride Stakes, or Diadem Stakes – two crowning glories of these "easy-to-follow categories" – is not wearing anything at all.
Yesterday was a more significant day for Racing For Change as the first in a month of free racing. Here is one initiative that has received, and deserved, nothing but praise. After a successful experiment last year, complimentary tickets are being offered at 27 tracks during April. Over 70,000 have been reserved, but online bookings remain available at 15 meetings (lovetheraces.com).
And that should remind us that all these innovations – good, bad or indifferent – are at least proposed with the best of intentions. Some may make us feel disenfranchised, embittered even, but it is important to resist an automatic hostility. After all, while some may view the Champions Series concept as little short of fraudulent, the bottom line is that it has now seduced a significant new investment in the British sport.
Another "brand" of nonsense, however, is perhaps being recognised as simply too silly to be peddled any harder – and that's a formally designated "premier" season, over jumps and on the Flat. True, some felt a little disoriented by the notion that a new Flat season could have begun at Catterick on Wednesday. But at least the switch to turf always guarantees an annual line in the sand, while allowing the season to develop by increments. Contrast the absurdity that permits the jumps season to "end" at Sandown in three weeks' time – and resume at Plumpton and Towcester, less than 24 hours later.
For various inconsequential reasons, Doncaster has had to wait three days to resume its role as the harbinger of spring, but another three months would hardly make the William Hill Lincoln Handicap any more intelligible. It is hard enough to choose from the six saddled by Richard Fahey, never mind the other 16.
Emboldened by consecutive Newmarket gambles landed by Expresso Star and Penitent, punters have got stuck in to the lightly raced Taqleed. But he is a short price, and a diffident recommendation is instead made for another of the younger runners. Gunner Lindley only began to piece together some top-class genes last autumn, and has crept into the race on its bottom rung.
The weekend's real highlight is the return of St Nicholas Abbey in a Listed race at the Curragh tomorrow. The champion juvenile of 2009 disappeared after the Guineas last year, but his trainer is intent on making up for lost time now. High time, one way or the other, to call this horse's bluff.
BHA tries patience with its ill-judged intervention
So the British Horseracing Authority has announced Nicky Henderson will face no charges after backing himself to draw a blank at the Cheltenham Festival. It did, however, pompously reprove his wager as "ill-judged and inappropriate" and intends to redraft the rules as a result.
Well, that's a relief. We wouldn't want anyone to think that anything approaching a sense of proportion might infect the BHA in its service of those who perceive a menace to probity under every trilby. Good grief. Are we all now so sanctimonious that we must discover something disreputable or sinister even in this, perhaps the most transparently innocuous bet of all time?
By treating trainers like imbeciles, the BHA may find they start censoring anything hazardously suggestive of colour in their dealings with press and public. After all, if he can be made to feel persecuted over something so trivial, how will Henderson respond to more serious questions, such as those raised by recent medication controversies?
He still has every chance of overhauling Paul Nicholls in the trainers' championship going into Liverpool. If he were to have a tenner on Nicholls, mind you, presumably no punter could back Long Run or Binocular with confidence next week. Come off it, BHA. Get yourselves a life.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Bonfire Knight (5.20 Doncaster) From a stable back in the groove after struggling in 2010, and shaped so well this time last year that he may have still more to offer.
Eton Forever (2.05 Doncaster) Beat a smart one in his maiden at Kempton last spring. His first effort in handicaps promised more off this kind of mark, and he was presumably amiss next time, not seen since.
One to watch
Byron Bear (Paul Midgley) was soon outpaced over the sharp 7f at Musselburgh yesterday, but picked up strongly for a midfield finish and can win a little handicap over 10f.
Where the money's going
Backstage is 11-1 from 14-1 with Paddy Power for the John Smith's Grand National next Saturday.Reuse content