When he was awarded the Cartier award of merit for his lifetime contribution to racing, trainer Barry Hills insisted that racing should continue to be fun, and if that meant a little bit of skulduggery then so what. It drew the biggest applause of the evening.
It has been a bizarre year for the racing community who exist in a strange limbo somewhere between sport and business. The racing itself has been fun. When the young pretender Long Run took on two former Gold Cup winners at Cheltenham and beat both Denman and Kauto Star, the race had everything: power, athleticism, canny professionalism, youthful exuberance and sheer class. In the Flat season to follow we had the mighty Frankel to admire as he extended his unbeaten sequence to nine, including victories in the 2,000 Guineas and the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot on the new Champions’ Day.
Racing politics, though, proved even more depressing than the Westminster variety. There are a thousand fewer horses in training than three years ago. Because prize money is so low in Britain, good horses are streaming off to Hong Kong, Australia and the UAE in a talent drain. One owner told me: ‘If you are offered £200,000 for a horse, you look at the UK programme book for where the animal might earn that kind of money — and you sell.’
This year finally saw the sale of the Tote, the pool-betting business previously owned by the government. We also had the long-running controversy over use of the whip and a trial of strength between owners, represented by the Horsemen’s Group, and the racecourses. So in this season of awards, here are mine.
Comeback of the Year goes to the incredible Kauto Star.