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Name game that has gone too far.

ONCE upon a time you knew where you were with the names of horse races. There were The Guineas, The Oaks, The Derby, The St Leger and the rest of what are now the Group races-all with neat, simple, seemingly permanently evocative names. At a lesser level there were the big handicaps: the Lincoln, the Victoria Cup, the Hunt Cup, the Stewards' Cup, the Cambridgeshire, the Cesarewitch and so on. And nearer the bottom of the heap there were other events you could set your mental calendar by: if you dig hard enough you can probably still find one or two old-timers who can tell you exactly which Thursday they used to run the Arthur Boggis Perpetual Challenge Cup for the Enid J Bagnold Memorial Trophy, or whatever it was, at Hurst Park, or Manchester or Ally Pally.

Things change. A glance at the names of the races run in the last few days tells you they change pretty fast.

I'm not just talking about the Ladbroke (Ayr) Gold Cup-although there are plenty of us who feel disgusted by the impertinence of those brackets, and can't help wondering whether they're to the sponsors' benefit or not. I mean, wouldn't anyone who registered them be less likely to bet with those responsible for their insertion rather than more? And who do they think they're fooling anyway? Do they honestly think anyone is going to stop calling it the Ayr Gold Cup just because they say we should?

Traditionalists are still hoping for a response to photographer John Crofts' suggestion that we could strike a deal with those who help to put up the prize-money for famous races by agreeing to mention their names at least once in every article or photo caption, as long as they agreed to leave the actual title of the race more or less intact.

What I'm thinking about is some of the other names: the ones of races whose original titles we never could remember or never even noticed, the ones that are there just to fill up the cards. Has anyone been taking notice of them lately? Did anyone register, for example, that the first at Newbury on Saturday was "The John Eccles 50th Birthday Nursery Handicap"? (Apart from the birthday boy that is). Did anyone nod approvingly when they saw that the 5.30 was "The Andrew Jay's Found Someone Mad Enough To Marry Him Conditions Stakes (Class B)"?

WE can all see the financial imperatives behind such monstrosities as "The Easy Favourites Magic Eleven Fifty Two Handicap (Class C)" at Newcastle-my guess is it's a radio station-or "The Faucets for Mira, Meynell, Sirrus & Grohe Shower Spares Handicap Hurdle (Class E)" at Carlisle.

But what about the rest? I hope I'm not being too much of a spoilsport about this. But all the evidence suggests that the prostitution of race names is now more or less complete; that every course in the country is now reclining, heavily made-up and perfumed in rooms cleverly lit to hide the shoddiness of the furnishings, fluttering eyes invitingly at anyone who fancies passing over a few quid in exchange for the chance to have their flagging ego stroked by experts.

So on the assumption that you can now call a race anything you like as long as you can pay for it, I've decided to go for a few flights of fancy of my own. You know how it is. You've just won the lottery. Or it turns out that careful research by genealogists has unearthed the pleasantly interesting fact that you, and not the incumbent emir, are the rightful owner of the oil rights in some large tract of land on the Arabian peninsula.

If I wasn't short of a bob or two I'd name all sorts of races. What about the "Don't Think You're Fooling Anyone We Know This Race Is Only Being Run Because There Are Too Many Bad Horses In Training Claiming Stakes", or the "You Don't Really Expect Us To Bet On Crap Like This Do You Maiden"? Could we have the "This Race Is Nothing But A Bookies' Benefit And All The Runners Are Just One Step Away From The Glue Factory So Nobody Minds Running Them On Concrete Anyway Conditional Novices' Hurdle"?

What if we ran the "There Are Too Many Racecourses In Britain And I Reckon It Would Be A Good Idea If We Closed Some Of Them Down Starting With This Gaffe Seller"?

No? Oh, all right then. But surely no-one could object if just once we ran the "Some Race Names Are Getting So Pathetic In Their Demonstration That The Sport's Financial Structure Is Hopeless That It Really Makes Your Toes Curl Handicap (Class Z)". Could they?
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Haigh, Paul
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 21, 1999
Words:789
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Next Article:Williams to hand in his training licence; Newmarket handler finds it impossible to balance books.


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