It’s amazing to think Cheltenham was only last week. So much seems to have happened in that time. We have gone from the madness that is Gold Cup Friday to racing behind closed doors, to no racing at all till May!
Cheltenham itself was a fantastic week. There were so many highlights. Just to name a few: Samcro proving all his doubters wrong, Champ coming from a different parish to win the RSA and Al Boum Photo winning back-to-back Gold Cups under a superb ride from Paul Townend.
However, I think all this is covering up a very worrying theme running through jumps racing, and that is the underlying dominance of the big trainers. I am extremely worried. If this continues it could lead to a lot of jumps trainers going out of business and the sport becoming monopolised by a certain few people.
Most big owners go into horse ownership in the hope of finding the next superstar. Having big winners at meetings like Cheltenham is everyone’s dream. However, in recent years unless you have a horse trained by Nicky Henderson, Gordon Elliot or Willie Mullins it is extremely hard to do that.
Take the last three Cheltenhams, for example. In 2018, the supposed Big Three won 16 of the 28 races, 11 in 2019, and a staggering 18 this year. This goes even further. There are 13 Grade 1 races during the Festival and the Big Three won 10 of them this year!
If this trend continues, and they dominate all the big races, why would anyone want to have a horse with anyone else? Look at the last two Grand Nationals, the supposed “People’s race”!
In 2018, Gordon Elliot and Willie Mullins had the first three between them. Last year, they had the 1st and 3rd. Other trainers simply cannot compete. There is no question in my eyes this dominance is only going to get stronger in years to come. Not only could it lead to many small trainers being forced to quit but it could also lead to people calling the sport boring or repetitive and turning away from it. I do believe some sort of action needs to be taken.
What therefore can we do to save the sport which we love? Could you cap the number of horses a certain person can train? Could you ban top trainers from running more than one of their horses in a race? Could you enforce a handicap system, even in Graded races? Could you introduce certain races at Cheltenham for trainers with 30 horses or less?
These are just ideas and are probably at this time too drastic, but I do think it is something the BHA should be looking into at speed. If this trend continues you are taking away all the uncertainty, and it’s the uncertainty which makes racing so appealing.
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