Today is the day that all racehorses, from the lowliest plater to the highest-flying champion, have one thing in common: their official birthdays.
And two remarkable veterans, now 14, offer timely reminders particularly to those who threaten to market the sport to its detriment. A worthy New Year resolution would be never to forget to see beyond the gimmicks, the veneer, the dumbing down to what is, and always must be, at the heart of it all. The horse. And gallant, battle-hardened warriors like The Tatling and Mister McGoldrick will always touch the imagination more than any contrived series, sovereign or otherwise.
The Tatling's career has so far spanned 12 years, with 158 outings on 24 different tracks for 33 different riders. In his prime he was able to take on the best sprinters in the world; his 16 victories include one at Royal Ascot. And though he now plies his trade in low-grade handicaps, at Lingfield yesterday he was bouncing with the health and zest of a horse a quarter of his age.
There was no fairy-tale victory on what might have been his final outing, but he returned to the warmest of receptions after a sprightly second place that could have staved off retirement. "If he'd won, we might have called time," said his trainer, Milton Bradley. "But he sulked and moped the last time we tried it. While his heart's still in it, we may keep him going."
Mister McGoldrick, trained by Sue Smith in Yorkshire, will be running for "merely" the 90th time when he steps out this afternoon at Cheltenham, aiming for his 16th victory at the scene of his shock 66-1 success at the 2008 Festival. "There is no point in retiring him when he still enjoys what he is doing," said his proud owner Richard Longley. "When he is working at home, he is probably more enthusiastic than all the rest of the string put together," Longley said.
The old boy's rivals today include one, Carole's Legacy, who was a day-old foal the day he was running for the 34th time, and winning for the ninth. He has, however, some way to go to match the exploits of the evergreen Sonny Somers, who won chases at the age of 18 in 1980, equalling the age record for victory set by three animals during previous centuries.
But teenage kicks apart, the accent in Gloucestershire this afternoon is on the bright promise of youth. The Grade Two centrepiece of the card, the Dipper Novices' Chase, is a contest that regularly signposts serious senior talent. Previous winners of the the two mile, five furlong contest include My Will, The Listener and My Way De Solzen.
Today's edition will be a shakedown for several Festival aspirations, with six last-time-out winners in opposition. They include the charismatic grey Medermit, third favourite for the Arkle Trophy, in which his erstwhile Alan King stablemate My Way De Solzen doubled up.
Medermit, a strikingly handsome individual, made a bright start to his chasing career before thoroughly disgracing himself by refusing in a minor contest at Huntingdon. He put his behavioural record straight at Plumpton next time and clearly still has his powerful hurdler's engine, but his jumping will be given a thorough examination by today's testing course and better opposition.
Master Of The Hall, who survived a ghastly last-fence blunder to win on his chasing debut at Ascot, makes more appeal over the larger obstacles in the longer term. But the value today may be Mr Thriller (2.00), who was making a fair fist of taking on Time For Rupert, subsequently proven as very smart, when overpitching at the second-last fence on today's course in November.
New Year's Day in the bracing Cotswolds is a traditional antidote to any excesses of the night before and the promising young hurdler Bobs Worth (12.20), course specialist Maljimar (1.30), and talented but fragile chaser Taranis (2.35) are suggested to revive the sparkle.
Jason Maguire will have floated on bubbles into 2011 after a 191-1 four-timer at Uttoxeter yesterday brought up his 50 winners for the season. The journeyman rider, with unbeaten Champion Hurdle prospect Peddlers Cross to particularly look forward to, scored on Tornado Bob, Glenwood Knight, Smokey George and Mallusk.
In Dubai, though, the top Flat rider William Buick spent New Year's Eve in hospital, lucky to escape relatively unscathed after two falls at Meydan. He briefly lost consciousness after the second incident, in which his mount Foolin Myself crashed through the rails, but is likely to be discharged today after scans and X-rays revealed no serious injury.
Turf Account: Sue Montgomery
Sue Montgomery's Nap
Bermuda Boy (1.15 Exeter)
Already a dual winner on the Flat in France, he warmed up for today's seasonal hurdles debut with an eye-catching second on the Flat at Kempton last week.
Prince Massini (3.20 Fakenham)
Progressive since close-season surgery to aid his breathing and his rise in the ratings is eased today by his riders' allowance.
One to watch
Superior Wisdom (A M Hales), who reverted to hurdles this season after a spell chasing, was running a big race when misjudging the third-last in a good three-mile contest at Cheltenham last month and looks capable of coping with a career-high mark.
Where the money's going
The ex-Flat filly Unaccompanied (D K Weld) has been introduced into the market for the Triumph Hurdle at 12-1 after effortlessly landing the odds on her hurdling debut at Punchestown yesterday.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Salden Licht (2.15 Exeter)