Magazine article The Spectator

Early Retirement

Magazine article The Spectator

Early Retirement

Article excerpt

How can Flat racing keep its public enthused when the moment a superstar emerges he is whisked away to other duties? Winning the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, the Coral Eclipse, the Juddmonte International, the Irish Champion Stakes and the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Sea The Stars gave us a glorious summer. But at only three, before you can say 'how was it for you?', he is off to the breeding sheds to meet a bevy of equine lovelies and racing must begin the search for the next Great One. It is as if Beckham and Ronaldo had been whisked off permanently to a life of TV celebrity shows before they had played in a World Cup, as if Botham and Shane Warne had been retired to the commentary box before ever playing an Ashes series. Sea The Stars will never prove himself against the next wave.

That could be one reason why, while Flat racing fights for survival, the audience for jump racing continues to grow, why more and more people are attracted to the winter sport despite the battles with the elements and the injury toll. In 2007 Kauto Star scintillated in winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In 2008 Denman pulverised his field to take it off his stable companion. In March this year Kauto Star became the first Gold Cup winner to win back his crown while Denman, whose career might have been ended by a heart problem, ran gallantly to finish second after an interrupted preparation. This season, with Denman fit from the start, we could see the best contest yet between the two.

Jump racing's appeal is part continuity, part character, plus the fact that it is still a sport and not just a business where you can ensure success only if you have money to buy the best raw materials. The horses go on running, some of them until they are 12 or even older. You get to know their quirks and their characters. And while demographics are changing, with the richest owners buying good horses and concentrating them in a few top yards, small stables do still produce winners of good races, little-known jockeys do ride the winners of top contests.

Ascot on Saturday had everything you would want from a jumping card. The opening hurdle was won by Zabeel Palace, trained by the legendary gambler Barney Curley, who now spends most of his time and most of his winnings on Dafa, a charity helping children in Zambia. …

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