Jumps racing was better before Cheltenham ruled the roost – the sport must change before it’s too late

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WASN’T jumps racing better before Cheltenham became the be-all and end-all?

This isn’t even a case of ‘old man yells and cloud’ – I’m in my 30’s for goodness sake.

Nicky Henderson was at the eye of another storm this week

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Nicky Henderson was at the eye of another storm this weekCredit: PA
Henderson was criticised for the language he used after withdrawing Constitution Hill at Ascot

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Henderson was criticised for the language he used after withdrawing Constitution Hill at AscotCredit: Getty

You don’t have to dig too far down into the memory bank to find a time when the five months preceding the Festival really mattered.

There is HD footage of Kauto Star running in the Old Roan, Betfair Chase, Tingle Creek (yes, really), King George and Aon Chase before the Gold Cup.

He won all of them by the way. 

If you really wanted to hammer home the point of how soft National Hunt racing has become, just check out Desert Orchid’s 1987-88 campaign.

He ran ten times between October and April, from two-miles to three miles and five furlongs on ground varying from good to firm to heavy.

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He ran 23 more times after that, winning a further three King Georges and a Gold Cup. Running every other week certainly didn’t do Dessie any harm.

I don’t know if it’s the jumps horse as a breed who are becoming softer or whether it’s their trainers. My suspicion is it’s the latter.

Now, look. Plenty has been said over the past week about Constitution Hillgate.

I didn’t have that big a problem with Nicky Henderson withdrawing the horse at Ascot – a £300,000 card which descended into farce last Saturday.

But the problems always start for Hendo when he can’t resist the temptation to turn a simple situation into a Channel 5 soap opera.

Whether it’s Altior or Shishkin or Constitution Hill, you don’t have to justify your decision by using irresponsible language like ‘unsafe’ or saying your horse would end up in his box ‘wounded’.

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I can’t imagine the likes of Paul Nicholls and Nigel Twiston-Davies were too amused with those comments. They ran their horses and felt conditions were perfectly safe.

Just say, ‘the ground isn’t right, I know everyone will be disappointed and I’m sorry’. Then we can all move on with our lives.

The Hendo apologists on TV need to give themselves a shake, too. 

I like Luke Harvey, but someone should have said to him: “He’s not gonna shag you, mate.”

As I’ve said 3,490 times before, there is too much power in too few hands and Cheltenham has become too big a carrot dangled on a stick at the end of the season.

I would love to see a greater spread of equine talent (though admittedly that’s a little thin on the ground right now) because to trainers like Hendo it’s Cheltenham or bust.

Marco Ban

MARCO GHIANI’S six-month ban for taking cocaine was finally confirmed on Thursday — nearly three months after this paper broke the story.

I’ve no idea why it takes so long for these issues to be sorted, and find it even more baffling that the BHA have refused to comment the entire time.

It’s pretty simple, he has either tested positive for cocaine or he hasn’t.

The plight of Ghiani once again highlights the ongoing problem with the old Colombian marching powder in horse racing, and society at large.

Dozens of jockeys have been caught with the class A drug in their system and increased testing doesn’t seem to be working.

As for Ghiani, he has taken responsibility for his foolish actions and will now be banned until March.

He is a very promising young rider and a charming bloke to boot, and he had the world at his feet. I sincerely hope he can rebuild his career.

The National Hunt product has suffered as a consequence, especially over the last five to ten years. 

Some of the weekend racing in recent seasons I wouldn’t watch if it took place in my back garden.

I’ve eventually arrived at the point I want to make – we should introduce a qualifying system for the Cheltenham Festival.

If you want a runner in the Champion Hurdle, you have to run your horse in at least three qualifiers to get there. That’s not even that outlandish, is it?

And would it be such a bad thing if a number of those qualifiers were handicaps? 

In one swoop you’d make big races through the winter more competitive – I for one would love to see Constitution Hill give a stone to the field.

We’ve seen Paul Nicholls running his good horses in handicaps this year and it’s produced two of the performances of the season from Greaneteen and Frodon. 

No wonder he wins the trainers’ title every year – Cheltenham just isn’t that big a deal to him.

I love jumps racing, but for its own good we need to get radical.

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