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Only the best is good enough for me.

Byline: Paul Haigh

ON THURSDAY, David Ashforth wrote a typically elegant piece on what he loves about racing. Rather to my surprise, I found myself agreeing with everything he said, apart perhaps from the bit about the beauty of early mornings. Following the time-honoured technique of feeding off the ideas of others, I thought I'd produce my own list of things I don't like about racing. Maybe you, too, have to be a crapulous curmudgeon to share these opinions. But let's see how many of them David, and anyone else, agrees with:

1. The power of the big bookmakers in the economic structure and, therefore, in nearly every facet of racing. If anyone can think of a worse case of the tail wagging the dog I'd be very interested to hear of it.

2. The handicap system. What cruel madman devised this, and for what purpose other than to encourage deceit and corruption?

Handicaps are ghastly, not just because the best horse so seldom wins, but because they multiply by such an absurdly high factor the degree of difficulty involved in trying to work the race out. Yes, I know some people like that, but some people like playing football with blancmange, I expect, and I am not responsible for them or for their idiosyncrasies.

Handicaps are far too often won by devious persons who, by hook or by crook, have somehow managed to conceal the ability of their horses until the secretly appointed day.

And how can anyone support a system that penalises horses who are campaigned openly and honestly by shoving them up a few pounds every time they run another open and honest race. Don't you just hate that? Bill O'Gorman is right. We should have a system based on claiming, like they do in the US.

3. Maidens. I know you've got to have maidens, otherwise you wouldn't have any other races, but that's no reason for not hating them. One of the very few ways you can squeeze some amusement out of them is by counting the number of jockeys who are doing their best not to finish anywhere near the cramped-odds, extremely expensive winners. Why? For eventual purposes of 2, of course.

4. Watering. No, not just some of it.

All of it. What did they do in the old days when watering wasn't possible? They ran races on ground that varied according to the weather. So everyone knew where they were. And did the thoroughbred breed not just survive, but thrive? My goodness me, it did.

If any clerk of the course would like to write asking what he or she should do with his or her hosepipes, I would be only too happy to send a detailed description (with diagram).

5. Races that split into two or more groups as jockeys seek better ground. If I want two races at once, I will ask for them. If not, one at a time please, and disqualify those who don't stick with the main group.

6. People in the media - including me, but definitely not including David - who think what they have to say is REALLY IMPORTANT.

Nothing is that important, and especially not racing - which is serious, but that's another thing altogether. Please refer to the words of (I think) Lord Salisbury, who, when Prime Minister, observed that: "Nothing matters very much, and most things don't matter at all."

And if that doesn't work, try Bill Bryson's extremely digestible but also extremely terrifying A Short History Of Nearly Everything, which should enable you to understand your place in the great scheme of things and stop you acting as though even your most casual thought had been brought down from the mountain on tablets of stone. Racing is fun, geeks. Serious fun, but fun. Keep it that way, and get your egos off my lawn. THAT'S six, and I'm not going to make it to ten, am I? I could go on to 60, but space . . . you know how it is - the final frontier. Still, no doubt there's enough here to have you already asking: "So why bother, you miserable git? Why not just get out of the way, and let the rest of us enjoy it?"

The answer is Group racing, and specifically G1 racing, wherever it is held in the world. G1 racing: the best against the best to determine the best, at level weights and in fair fight. G1 racing, which even Lord Salisbury would admit was quite important. G1 racing, than which earth hath nothing to show more fair.

G1 racing is so great it cancels out all objections. If they abolished it tomorrow, I'd take up basket weaving. Or maybe embroidery.

'I know you've got to have maidens, but that's no reason not to hate them'
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Sep 7, 2008
Words:797
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