Thursday, May 02, 2013

The 2012/13 jumps season - a personal view

Champion jockey: A P McCoy
Champion trainer: Nicky Henderson
Winning owner: J P McManus
Leading conditional rider: Lucy Alexander

2012 was the second wettest year on record and all that rain left an indelible mark on the season.

From late summer onwards, the layers had Nicky Henderson long odds-on to take the trainers' title from Paul Nicholls but the Ditcheat handler clocked some notable victories in the autumn including the Paddy Power Gold Cup with Al Ferof and the Paul Stewart Ironspine Charity Challenge Gold Cup with Unioniste.

Al Ferof gave Walkon 16 lbs and a three length beating and was 5/1 for the King George at Kempton before sustaining an injury that wrote his season off. The legendary Big Buck's suffered a similar fate after winning in a common canter on his seasonal debut at Newbury.

Unioniste's Cheltenham victory, beating the hapless Walkon 11 lengths, was all the more remarkable as the horse was just four years old; some may have thought his subsequent defeat in the RSA Chase at the Festival a disappointment but the gelding is likely to strengthen up over the coming summer.

The season's headline horse was Henderson's Sprinter Sacre, described by Simon Holt as 'a steeplecahser from the gods' and that's exactly what he is. He beat Sizing Europe 19 lengths in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a trip of two miles, and is quoted as short as 6/4 by William Hill for the next running of the King George, run over a trip of three miles.

If Sprinter Sacre was Henderson's headline horse, stablemate Bobs Worth wasn't far behind. The gelding won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury in December and then added the Cheltenham Gold Cup in the spring, making ground from an unpromising position four out to win going away and maintaining his unbeaten track record in the process.

Hurricane Fly reclaimed the Champion Hurdle and no doubt intends to return next year but two other Festival performances stick in the mind - Liam Treadwell's front-running ride on 50/1 winner Carrickboy in the Byrne Group Plate and Oscar Delta's unseating of amateur Jane Mangan with the CGA Foxhunter Chase apparently at his mercy.

The BBC boasts a long distinguished history in the coverage of televised horse racing; the Corporation was due to bring that coverage to a conclusion with Chepstow's Welsh National meeting but the wet weather put paid to those plans.

Ironically Channel Four's re-vamped racing offering, handled by production company IMG Sports Media, covered the re-arranged card nine days later but those expecting to see the much-advertised Clare Balding on their screens were to be disappointed; apparently Ms Balding's contract covers just 88 days of the racing year...

Two weeks later, in an article in the Racing Post, Carl Hicks, the man at the helm of Channel Four's coverage, gave himself a rather generous-looking seven out of ten to date despite some initial technical mishaps. The station's televising of the Grand National didn't do much to boost the mark in my humble opinion but that proved of little consequence as racing was busy breathing a huge sigh of relief as all participants, both equine and human, came home safe and sound.

Ryan Mania's victory in the Aintree showpiece on the unconsidered Auroras Encore, a 66/1 chance, was manna from heaven for the media. On the very next day on his very next ride Mania was unfortunate to suffer neck and back injuries when falling from Stagecoach Jasper at Hexham; he was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Newcastle and the modest jockey's fame increased a further tenfold.

This year blog horse of the year goes to Countrywide Flame who took Newcastle's Fighting Fifth in a common canter and ran exceptionally well at odds of 16/1 to finish third in the Champion Hurdle.

I made it to the track just once this season - Warwick's Classic Chase day in mid January. The thing I remember most about the meeting was John Craven appearing particularly animated after Ely Brown's victory at odds of 12/1 in the three mile handicap hurdle. The inference in that last comment is that my own selections ran particularly poorly...

Finally, to conclude the review, a word for Lucy Alexander. Alexander rode 38 winners and in doing so became the first woman as well as the first Scot to win the Conditional Jockeys' Championship. Aged just 22 she is already the most successful female NH jockey of all time - well done Lucy!

No comments: