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Perils of rewarding mediocrity at expense of talent; STEVE DENNIS.

THE train of thought is a delicate train, something akin to the Orient Express but made out of spun sugar and fairies' wings.

It dawdles picaresquely around the manifold stations and halts of the min1d, here pausing to allow unpromising ideas to alight, there taking on the coal of coherent invention, but everywhere prone to immediate and catastrophic derailment.

Writers are especially vulnerable to this phenomenon. Put yourself, dear reader, on the other side of the fire. There you are, wearing your Casey Jones hat and admiring your reflection in the window every time you go through a tunnel, driving your train of thought smoothly to its destination, when - bang! - you're somehow parked in a siding with no notion of how to get back on the main line.

The agent of your downfall could be anything - an intrusive telephone call, a glimpse of the ankles of a pretty girl, an enormous dead badger lying on its back at the side of the road - but the outcome is the same. The train of thought hits the buffers of imagination. All change, please.

Look at Coleridge. He'd just scribbled down the first few lines of Kubla Khan, all pleased with himself for getting in the bits about the pleasure dome and Alph, when he was detained for an hour by the Person from Porlock and subsequently discovered that his mental well was dry, that the whole poem had vanished from his consciousness.

Take Simenon, although his problems were usually self-inflicted. The creator of the detective Maigret believed that every time he ejaculated he 'lost' a novel. He later claimed to have had sex with 10,000 women - these Frenchmen, I ask you - so that's a lot of novels. I suppose that's what they mean by coming to a full stop.

But it's not just ideas that can disappear without trace. This week we were told that a lot of races had disappeared, quite good ones too. How can a race disappear? "It was there a minute ago, sir, lovely Class 3 contest over a mile, thing of beauty it was, and I turned my back for a second, became unaccountably distracted by an enormous dead badger lying on its back at the side of the road, and when I looked round again it had gone. Would you like this nice Class 6 race instead? No? Can't say I blame you, sir."

It turns out - and it's no surprise, let's face it - that owing to the pressure of trying to meet the Horsemen's Group tariffs, racecourses have been robbing Peter to pay Paul. Class 1 races are sacrosanct, evidently, but in order to get the dross of Class 5 and 6 up to a reasonable level of reward, prize-money has been shifted away from Class 2, 3 and 4 races.

And if you take enough money from a Class 3 race it magically turns into a Class 5, so across Britain racecourses have been downgrading entire cards to ensure that tariffs are met. The middle ground is incompatible with these tariff requirements.

It's called putting the carthorse before the horse, providing plenty of opportunities for slow horses and comparatively few for the ones who can both run fast enough to keep themselves warm and provide a measure of interest for those watching the sport.

If the races go, where do the horses go? That's an easy one. Somewhere else - Hong Kong, Qatar, the US, France, Australia - anywhere will do, really. These are the 'twilight horses', and their future in Britain is getting darker all the time.

This is what happens when you accentuate the positive (Champions Day, Royal Ascot) but also accentuate the negative (Class 5 and 6 races). Mr Inbetween gets squeezed out, no messing.

IF YOU own a horse rated between 85 and 100, there are fewer opportunities than there were a year ago. What do you do? Take him abroad or sell him abroad, wash your hands of a system that is failing you. What is the opposite of a meritocracy? This is.

What should happen, of course, is that every horse rated below a certain mark should be designated a pet and removed from the system. Flat point-to-points, anyone? Owning racehorses is not an inalienable right; the present model where opportunities are lavishly provided for 50-rated plodders at the expense of faster, better horses is akin to someone insisting that their son with one GCSE goes to Oxbridge when he's patently not fit for purpose.

How do we fix this gradual erosion of the heartwood of the sport? Well, there are enough people being paid to look into this kind of thing, I'm sure someone will think of something. Aren't you? Trains of thought don't tend to be lost forever - they usually come chugging back after a while, often on their way to a different destination. Ideas come and go freely, but horses and races probably don't work the same way. When they go, you see, they might be gone for good.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 27, 2011
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