Britain's champion trainer John Gosden thinks it's time for a September Flat championship weekend
When John Gosden talks, people listen. And if they don’t, they should. The champion trainer is rarely found wanting in the good sense stakes and this month’s exclusive interview finds the Newmarket man in fine form.
Having argued that British Flat racing needed a proper finale – including in this magazine exactly four years ago – you might have thought Gosden would be thrilled with the introduction of Champions’ Day in 2011. And you’d be half right. While stating that the Ascot raceday is a “fantastic concept”, he feels the current mid-October date comes too late in a long season, when ground conditions are more unpredictable, and would rather the day moved back in the calendar to the first week in September. If only it were that simple.
Champions’ Day is a brilliant product but it is not being allowed to realise its full potential
There was plenty of political manoeuvring required just to get Champions’ Day off the ground. Funding matters aside, our friends on the European Pattern Committee – namely the French – were concerned about the impact this new event would have on their races, primarily Arc weekend in early October.
Now Britain’s richest raceday, graced for the last two years by the mighty Frankel, sits, somewhat uncomfortably, in a slot between the Arc and Breeders’ Cup in the international calendar.
The announcement that Ireland will stage its own champions’ weekend in 2014 during mid-September has all but ended any hopes of a switch to an earlier date. Which is potentially fatal, according to Gosden.
“Our Champions’ Day now comes very much as an afterthought from a trainer’s perspective,” he explains. “In the first year we had nice ground but last year it was heavy. And of course, it makes it impossible to go to the Breeders’ Cup.
“I live in fear that Champions’ Day, fabulous concept though it is, is going to be sunk by the traditional late-autumn climate of the UK. It is a very dangerous date but I’m not sure there’s an easy solution to it.”
Yet Gosden has a potential solution, albeit one that would cause major ructions throughout the wider industry.
“In the end we are asking a bigger question,” the trainer says. “Would we be prepared to break out of the Pattern? It is nearly 40 years old and I rather think it belongs to a bygone era. It’s probably got a bit overblown now.
“There’s no doubt Britain has lost out. France stole a march on us when they moved all those Group 1 races to Arc day, in the process creating the European Breeder’s Cup. We then moved the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes back three weeks. Everyone knows in their heart it’s the wrong date.”
The question being asked, in effect, is whether Britain should be able to stage its major races whenever it wants, regardless of what is happening elsewhere.
Such a move would be a brave call indeed, yet Gosden is not floating the idea purely for the sake of it. Yes, he believes we have a brilliant product, however it is not being allowed to realise its full potential – like owning a Ferrari but only driving it during rush hour.
Prize-money may not be an issue for anyone running on Champions’ Day, with over £3 million up for grabs, but it is certainly a big concern for those further down the ladder.
Lambourn-based handler Stan Moore has developed his own method of combating declining purses – he’s racing in France instead.
In this month’s Continental Tales, Moore explains how his 217 runners in Britain have earned prize-money of around £90,000, while 17 horses sent over the Channel collected almost £78,000.
“It’s a shame I have to do it,” he says, “but British racing is the best in the world with the least reward.
“The stabling in Deauville was good, they looked after us well and the owners who went out really enjoyed it. I’m sure they would have no qualms about going back.”
It seems France is always a step ahead of Blighty.