Christmas — a time of joyful celebration. At Ascot today, the festive spirit will be everywhere for the Long Walk Hurdle card, with the course tapping into the time of year and providing a family day out.
We’ve got another bonanza coming on Boxing Day, too. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the King George VI Chase at Kempton and memories of Kauto Star and Desert Orchid flying through the air and thrilling the crowds on their way to history.
For horseracing, this is an incredible period. I’ve looked at the calendar for the next week, however, and cannot help feeling things could — and should — be so much better for everyone: for racegoers, for stable staff, for the sport as a whole.
If I was a venture capitalist in charge of British racing, I’d have a grand plan to make this a festive feast. Jump racing is so popular, we should make the period from December 26 to December 29 a celebration, with a structure to rival Leopardstown’s four-day festival on the same dates.
This, then, would be my idea. Boxing Day: Kempton in all its glory. December 27: on to Ascot, where the Long Walk Hurdle card would be waiting. On December 28, the show moves up to Aintree to thrill northern fans before, on December 29, we conclude at Newbury.
Chamberlin dreams of a more coordinated and festive racing schedule over December period
Extending Kempton’s two-day races to include a seven-race card on Boxing Day, Chamberlin suggests
How could we make that work? Easy. Kempton races over two days but the day that follows the King George is always low-key. You could take one race from December 27, move it to Boxing Day and have a seven-race card instead of six.
It’s the same with Ascot: they raced yesterday, as well as today. You’d take the feature events from yesterday’s card and make the Long Walk the centre point of seven awesome races. The two venues are split by just 15 miles, so you could sell tickets as a two-day package.
You may wonder where the Welsh Grand National fits in to all this, as that is staged on December 27. I’d switch that to the first weekend in January and give it its own platform to shine, a day when all eyes are on it.
With Aintree, which is owned by Jockey Club Racecourses, I would bolster my new card by moving two races from Kempton: the Desert Orchid Chase and the Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase, both Grade Two events, to support the Grade One Formby Novices’ Hurdle.
Aintree is racing on Boxing Day for the first time but I wonder if the action there will get lost in the Kempton narrative. Having a slot of its own on December 28 would ensure it gets all the attention it deserves — and you can guarantee it would be fantastically attended.
To finish off, it would be back down to Newbury for Challow Hurdle day, a Grade One with a rich heritage for novice hurdlers. This meeting always sparkles and it would provide a fitting finale to a sequence that would also be a huge draw for the television audience.
Through all this, you could match up timings so ITV also showed big races from Leopardstown. A proper treat for armchair fans. Look at what is happening on December 28: Galopin Des Champs versus Gerri Colombe and Fastorslow in the Savills Chase — it’s absolutely stunning.
There would be another element to my grand plan: stopping racing on December 20 and giving everyone a chance for a break. Stable staff and jockeys work such unrelenting and unforgiving hours that they need a chance to recuperate. They need to enjoy Christmas.
Chamberlin wants to see the Welsh Grand National moved to the first weekend in January, giving it its own spotlight
He also adds that transferring two races from Kempton (Desert Orchid Chase and Wayward Lad Novices’ Chase) to support Aintree’s Formby Novices’ Hurdle would improve the sport
I noted what Tony Bloom, Brighton’s chairman, said when he gave his speech at the Gimcrack Dinner two weeks ago, suggesting racing would benefit from a hiatus like football has between seasons. A pause, he argued, always leads to an increase in enthusiasm.
Similarly, this week John Gosden said he would not be having any runners until the middle of January as his staff have been overworked and the fixture list has reached saturation point.
We all love racing but being on a hamster wheel for 360-plus days a year is draining.
What are the chance of this happening? There’s more chance of me riding City Of Troy in the 2,000 Guineas! Racecourses have the power in terms of what they do on what dates and it is frustrating that we end up with small fields and a mishmash of a programme.
Perhaps one day it will change. For the moment, I’ll keep dreaming!
Ed Chamberlin is a Sky Bet Ambassador