Runners parade in front of the crowd at Worcester on Wednesday
PICTURE: David Dew (racingpost.com/photos)
Steve Dennis finds a rainy day can’t dampen the spirits of diehard jumping fans
SUMMER jumping. Rain falls steadily into the puddles by the parade ring at Worcester on a day seemingly borrowed from late October, the drip and splash the traditional soundtrack of a British summer. It’s not always like this, of course.
“On this day last year it was 30 degrees,” says At The Races pundit Luke Harvey, wistfully. Ah yes, mate, but we were in Europe back then. Now we’re going it alone we have to put up with our own weather, can’t let any of that continental sunshine infiltrate our borders. The rain persists, lending a sheen to the coats of the runners in the novice chase, confining the sparse crowd to the bars. Summer jumping; an indoor activity?
Last Saturday was Irish Derby day, next Saturday it’s the Eclipse, and in the middle is Worcester. Summer jumping might be considered no more than background noise, the fuzz and clatter between radio stations as we fiddle restlessly with the dial, looking for Harzand, trying to locate The Gurkha, the likes of Worcester and Newton Abbot fading in and out like static. Yet buried in the mix there’s a melody, easy to miss in racing’s weekend wall of sound but present nevertheless. Music to our ears.
“I come here as often as I can,” says annual member Richard Schofield, sheltering beneath an awning, studying his newspaper, chewing his pen. “I’ve only missed one meeting this year – ladies’ day, too many people.
“My wife didn’t come today because of the weather, but I don’t mind it. Look around you, look at the greenery. It’s like being out in the countryside. It’s very relaxing, a nice way to escape.
“When I come racing I meet people – it’s a social occasion. I’ll have a beer, a bet, a conversation. Even on what is quite an ordinary day’s racing, it’s a pleasure to be here.”
The unkown can sparkle
Worcester certainly has its setting to recommend it. A little green oval in the middle of town, girdled by the silvery Severn, overlooked by the cathedral tower. Find a seat, dry it off with your handkerchief (do people still carry handkerchiefs? I do, just in case I decide to run away from home), sit down and feel the trying events of the last few days leach away. Every so often some horses come past.
All right, you might not know who those horses are, this being neither Cheltenham in March nor Kempton in midwinter. There are no household names among the four-legged, but each of the eight races has a competitive profile, each of the races provides an opportunity for horses who have little truck with Cheltenham and Kempton but find their level at Worcester. It’s always a big day for someone, after all.
Zayfire Aramis draws away to win the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase; he’s rated 98, he’s never won a race in his life until he passed the post ten seconds ago, and you’ve almost certainly never heard of him. Today’s his day, see? His groom leaps around the parade ring, shouting him home. He wins by ten lengths, but sometimes you need to shout anyway.
Damp spirits? Not a bit of it – racegoers were making the most of it
PICTURE: David Dew (racingpost.com/photos)
“I’ve waited a year and a half for that,” says Bella Prescott, quieter now, rubbing her hand lovingly down the seven-year-old’s neck. “That’s my first winner, the first time I’ve led one up.”
She doesn’t care about the rain, and neither do the members of Aramis Racing as they cluster joyfully on the winner’s rostrum to receive their champagne. “It’s their Gold Cup,” says trainer Michael Scudamore, for whom the programme of summer jumping is vital to his business plan.
“I’m not a big trainer, I don’t have a great number of horses, but I’ve got nine or ten for the summer and they’ll keep us going until the core season starts again. Other trainers might be able to afford to have a few quiet months, but summer jumping is a godsend for us.
“That horse isn’t going to win against horses from the big yards, but at this time of year he gets a chance and it’s great that he’s managed to take it.”
Get closer to the action
Now and again people might get a bit sniffy about summer jumping – just as they do about the all-weather – but it serves a valuable purpose on many levels. It may not be haute cuisine, but it satisfies the appetite.
“These are the better sort of days,” says Simon Sterling from the corporate lawn. “I go racing three or four times a year and I really enjoy this sort of meeting – Ludlow and Hereford in the winter, Stratford and Worcester in the summer, smaller courses but more fun.
“It’s more about what racing’s about – you can get close to the horses, the jockeys, you can feel more involved. It’s not high-quality racing, all right, but it’s competitive enough if you’re having a bet.”
You might say, if you were prone to such verbal excrescences, that summer jumping ticks all the boxes. Jane Bradley, whose niece Katy Price trains Playingwithnumbers in the fifth race, has a lifelong connection with the sport and might be excused if an ordinary midweek meeting in midsummer didn’t send her pulse racing, but she leaves the firm impression that she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
“I’ve bunked off work to be here today, to watch Katy’s horse, but I’d have come anyway,” she says. “I went to work this morning and didn’t go back after lunch.
“I’ve always loved racing and I prefer days like these when you can move around freely, you can see what you want to see. So what if it’s raining? You just put on a hat and coat. And it may not be a very big crowd, but you can be certain that everyone is here because they want to be, they’ve come for the racing and for no other reason.”
It rains all afternoon. Clerk of the course Libby O’Flaherty changes the official going to good to soft. The puddles by the parade ring grow wider, deeper. Summertime in England. No summertime blues, though. This must be the cure, at last.
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