Thank God for jump racing. The Flat has its glitz and speed and glamour, and we could not help but thrill to the sheer quality on view at Ascot’s Champions Day this year with Solow and Muhaarar strutting their stuff. But as Jack Dowdeswell, champion jump jockey in the days when it was £3 a ride and a fiver for a winner, once said of the Flat: ‘In the end it is just going down and coming back.’ With jump racing there is a story in every race — not just the thrills and spills from extra risks over obstacles but the promising novice chaser who catches your eye and who you follow until he runs three years later in the Gold Cup. There is the patched-up old hurdler patiently nurtured after ‘getting a leg’, who comes back and wins good races, the rough-hewn horse spotted in a farmer’s field and bought for a song who beats the £100,000 French imports at the Cheltenham Festival. Above all, there are the understanding jumping crowds who brave all weathers to follow their sport and who derive as much pleasure from standing by a fence to see the field soar over as they do from backing a 10-1 winner.
The jump-racing season may have been running for a while — Richard Johnson, who has 100-plus winners on the board, is already seeking to seize the champion jockey’s title left open after 20 years by A.P. McCoy’s retirement — but Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting is the transition moment as the top stables introduce their new-season prospects and step up a gear. This October the glorious Gloucestershire venue provided a special treat, unveiling a handsome new grandstand, which blends seamlessly with the parade-ring amphitheatre and which will drive to new decibel levels the reception for Festival winners next March.
For those jumping flavours there was John Ferguson, Sheikh Mohammed’s right-hand man on the Flat but currently as well the leading trainer over jumps with his well-bred recruits.