MUCH has been talked about small fields in National Hunt racing this season, and there is no doubt the lack of rain – set to change later this week by the way – has played a big part.
But little has been mentioned about the owners colours have that gone missing in recent times, or at least reduced significantly in certain circumstances.
National Hunt racing has been blessed with wealthy, enthusiastic owners ever since I started watching the best game on earth.
But times change, and I think the departure of familiar silks has played a major role in why field sizes are reduced at present. Quite simply, the owners have not been replaced.
Let’s go back to 1988-89, when Peter Piller – best known for Blazing Walker – had 159 runners. Geoff Hubbard (Sibton Abbey and Strong Promise) had 162!
In 1994-95 there was Pell-Mell Partners (Katabatic) with 71 runners, and Jack Joseph with 108.
Move on to the likes of Sir Robert Ogden (Voy PorUstedes and 115 runners in 2000-1) and The Johnson Family (Cyfor Malta, Lady Cricket) with 392 in 2005-6.
Trevor Hemmings (Hedgehunter, Many Clouds) had 254 runners that term, and Andrea and Graham Wylie (Inglis Drever) 180.
Then of course there were the likes of Clive Smith (Kauto Star) and Andy Stewart (Big Buck’s) and the Anderson Green family.
Throw in ‘Best Mate’ Jim Lewis and Rooster Booster Terry Warner. The more I look at the owner scene – and don’t get me wrong others have emerged like Munir and Souede, Kate and Andrew Brooks and John Dance – the more I think it’s the departed mega rich owner who loves the game that is making the biggest difference to field sizes.
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Prize money will be key to getting those owners back, because although rich people will understand profits are unlikely, they tend to be the types who won’t just throw money away.
JP McManus has been the constant through most of the owners above. Racing fans will one day wonder how we didn’t marvel every year at his support.
On the horsey front I find myself getting more and more excited by novice chasers over just about every type of jumps horse.
Already this season Third Time Lucki, Bravemansgame and Bob Ollinger have looked superb, and to be honest although he cam down so has My Drogo.
I think it’s the hope, the expectation that stimulates with these beasts. One just does’t know how good they might become.
I’m sure I’m not the only one already thinking Shishkin v Third Time Lucki would be some match up, or A Plus Tard v Bob Ollinger. That’s the beauty of the game.
This is a sport where every day there is something to look ahead to or enjoy. There’s no other sport like it. And those of us who live for it should never forget that.
You and me, we got hooked by a game that’s there for us every time we wake up. That’s special. You can’t say that about every wife or husband you may have!
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