Like most people in racing I began 2023 down in the dumps, moaning about insufficient prize money, small fields and declining crowds. Gloom only intensified with racing’s administrators, the British Horseracing Authority, yet again forced into a humiliating U-turn on new rules it had proposed governing jockeys’ use of the whip, doing so just days before the bedding-in period for their implementation began. Lions unled by donkeys once more.
In my despondency I had forgotten the actual magic of going racing but it took only a few hours at Sandown on Veterans’ Chase Day to rekindle the sheer joy of the sport and its rich tapestry of characters who will in the end ensure its survival. Although inevitably there was a success for Paul Nicholls’s well-oiled winner factory, this was a day for the smaller folk, for the little battalions who make up the warp and weft of the racing picture, for the less-rewarded stables whose roots are sunk deep into the point-to-point world.
There are not many more than a dozen horses in Pam Sly’s Peterborough yard but it was her Xcitations who collected the Unibet handicap chase by seven lengths from the Scottish raider Corrigeen Rock in the hands of amateur Jack Andrews. Both horse and rider have courage. Andrews, the point-to- point champion, is 6ft 4ins and must have the best nutritionist in Britain while Pam, Sly by name but as open-hearted a trainer as you will find, revealed that Xcitations had been lame after both his previous victories and only after a third round of X-rays had they discovered that he had been running with a fractured pedal bone. As well as being trainer and part-owner, she is Xcitations’ breeder – as she was with 2006 1,000 Guineas winner Speciosa – and Xcitations is, remarkably, the 31st of her mare Bonnet’s Pieces progeny to be a winner.