Yesterday should probably be filed under a day to forget for anyone keen to promote racing as a sensible, grown-up sport. There was fury among professionals after Huntingdon was abandoned at noon, half an hour before the first race, and among punters at Taunton as the opening seller started with Rude Health, backed from 11-1 to 4-1, standing immobile adrift of the rest of the field, her jockey's feet out of the irons.
The comedy capers began before dawn, when Fiona Needham, clerk of the course at Huntingdon, arrived at the track after a bitterly cold East Anglian night, during which temperatures plummeted well below expectations. Yet two inspections, at 9.30 and 10.30, gave the green light for racing despite parts of the racing surface remaining frozen solid, before an embarrassing u-turn.
"It was four and a half degrees below, with freezing fog rolling in," said Needham. "The ground didn't seem too bad at 9.30 and seemed to have improved significantly between the first inspection and the second. We gave the all-clear, but temperatures did not continue to rise. We had another look at 12 noon, when we abandoned."
Trainers and jockeys who made abortive journeys were distinctly unimpressed. "It is so bad for racing when this sort of thing happens," said Carl Llewllyn, who had a runner in the opener. "It makes it look as if it is run by fools." Choc Thornton and Alan King inspected ground conditions in the home straight after the officials took their second look. "It was totally frozen," said the jockey, "and Alan decided straight away that he'd pull our runner out of the first. It was very disappointing, to say the least." David Gandolfo added: "When I got here, I realised there was never any likelihood of racing going ahead."
Needham's judgement has already been called into question this year; a meeting at Warwick in September under her clerkship had to be abandoned after last-minute watering left a dangerous patch of ground.
Soon after the Huntingdon abandonment came the abandonment of Rude Health at the start at Taunton. The Keith Goldsworthy-trained mare, supported to second-favouritism, became upset mentally after a delay while another runner was re-saddled, and rooted herself, despite Christian Williams' best efforts from the saddle, a long way adrift of the tapes, where she remained as her 15 rivals departed.
"She was going nowhere once she planted," said an unimpressed Williams. "She was absolutely refusing to move. She should have been withdrawn."
Rude Health lost the plot, her backers lost their money and the seven-year-old's owner Jackie Dollan threatened to lose her patience. "I have four horses in training," she said, "but this sort of thing would make me turn my back on racing."
The sport's central authorities will consider reports into both image-damaging incidents. And while on the subject, the City of London police force yesterday announced a full-scale review of the corruption investigation that ended with the collapse last week of the trial of Kieren Fallon and five others.
The main event at Taunton yesterday, the novices' chase, had also something of the Keystone Cops about it. Pepporoni Pete decanted his rider at the first, then 4-7 shot Acambo came to the last in the lead, but being hounded by outsider Russian Around. The challenger rooted the obstacle and came down, and a split-second later Acambo (backed at 1-20 on Betfair), who had jumped the fence well, stumbled and keeled over himself, perhaps distracted by his sprawling rival.
Their synchronised collapse gifted the prize to 14-1 chance Triggernometry (trading at 99-1 on Betfair as the leading pair left him trailing in the straight) and Joe Tizzard, celebrating his 28th birthday. Acambo, who put in some excellent leaps in the course of a race run at a farcically slow early pace, still remains prominent in the Arkle betting.
And there was compensation for his team of David Pipe, Tony McCoy and David Johnson when Not Left Yet defied an absence of 273 days and top weight to take the concluding three-mile hurdle. The six-year-old was warming up for the Welsh National.
There will be an inspection at Doncaster at 6.45am, but no problems are envisaged at Cheltenham, where frost covers have been deployed.
Nap: Roman Villa