The thrill of the steeplechase
The Oldie Magazine|October 2020
Jumping over the sticks is often regarded with disdain by its richer, flat-racing cousin – but not by Robert Bathurst
Robert Bathurst

The jumps season will soon be getting properly underway. Fixtures are scheduled all year, but it’s in September that the higher-quality runners restart their training, fans of the jumps pore over lists of horses to follow and trainers get to polish their artful, non-committal, gnomic pronouncements.

As I write in Gold Cup Prattle, a hymn to the language of racing:

We’re very happy with our horse

Serious contender

Makes plenty of appeal

Could play a big part

Very hopeful.

Highly regarded

Fancied to go well

He’s looking in good order

He’s been showing all the right signs at home

I’m expecting a big run

Hopeful, yes, very hopeful.

The difference between the jumps and the flat, according to top jockey Tom Scudamore, ‘is akin to [that between] Rugby Union and Rugby League; they’re completely different sports, different techniques, different ways of training’.

There’s a snobbery, too, towards the jumps from its richer cousin. I went to Newmarket one autumn and tried to go to the National Horse Racing Museum, which was manned but shut. It closes every year, they said, ‘when racing stops’.

I muttered that there was a full jump-racing calendar that very day, but I was talking the wrong code. To their credit, they let me in anyway.

What is it about a crowded jumps meeting that so appeals? I got a whiff of realisation at the Cheltenham Festival in 2009. I’d taken a day away from a vigil at my father’s hospital bed. He died within a week; my mother had died the month before. I don’t pretend that these circumstances are anything out of the ordinary but, on a personal level, I was deep in a misery I hadn’t met before.

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