Flat racing is a mystery to the general sports fan. How do you follow the fortunes of a top class horse when, so soon after it emerges top of its class, it retires to stud, never to be seen again?
Many big races are restricted to three-year-olds, so there’s a bewilderingly large new generation to get to one’s head around every year. While quality older horses do continue to strut their stuff, they are comparatively few in number. What’s more, many of their races will be abroad and away from the gaze of the TV cameras; in any case, knowing when they are due to run isn’t easy.
New stars come along. But then stars come along every year, invariably trained or owned by one or other of a select few. So how are we meant to get excited?
Somehow, we do. And I’ve been an enthusiast for many years now, long enough to sometimes believe I’ve seen everything.
You will often hear the cognoscenti say things like ‘this year’s crop of three-year-olds looks strong’. The horticultural collective noun offers us a clue to how we should think of the cycle of the racing year, if it is to make sense. Imagine trainers as gardeners on a grand scale: every year they must use the raw materials supplied by their patrons (owners) to put on a good display. How do the two-year-olds measure up? How, on the whole, do the English juveniles compare with those in trained in Ireland? Is the wet spring (if such is the case) holding back the progress of three-year-old fillies? What are the Godolphin yard’s three year olds like this year?
As you may have noticed, bluebells have emerged in all their spring glory, transforming scrubby patches of woodland. This happens every year, but they never lose their power to delight.
So here we are, after the winter hiatus, the European Flat season getting going and equine wonders to behold. Just like last year.
Predicting who will blossom this summer is harder than explaining the appeal of the sport. Kingman has already made a huge impression in his reappearance race, which is why he is favourite for tomorrow’s 2000 Guineas at Newmarket. Among the less exposed horses, Arod, Sudden Wonder and the Irish-trained My Titania could all have a moment or two in the sun.