Horse racing 2020 audit: Frankie Dettori remains the biggest attraction, the rise of Britain's young jockeys and why welfare is a priority

Marcus Armytage
The Telegraph
Frankie Dettori, 49, who enjoyed his best year, remains the sport's biggest box-office attraction - anywhere he goes in the world - Getty Images Europe
Frankie Dettori, 49, who enjoyed his best year, remains the sport's biggest box-office attraction - anywhere he goes in the world - Getty Images Europe

At the beginning of a new decade, Telegraph Sport is auditing all major sports – our 2020 vision – with new sports each day. Athleticsboxingcricket, cyclingrugbytenniswomen's football and F1 have all been published. Still to come: men's football, netball and golf.


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On the Flat Frankie Dettori, 49, who enjoyed his best year in terms of Group One wins (19) in 2019, remains the sport’s biggest box office attraction – anywhere he goes in the world. Providing he remains on the right side of John Gosden he can probably string out his carer for five more years and I am sure when he goes there will be something of a world farewell tour.

The bad news, however, is that there does not appear to be anyone to take his place in terms of personality (and possibly ability) when he goes.

Oisin Murphy, the new Champion jockey, says all the right things and is good in the big races but he could not carry the sport like Dettori has for nearly 30 years while Ryan Moore, the antithesis to Dettori in terms of character, should find life a bit less pressurised again at Ballydoyle now that Donnacha O’Brien has retired.

Over jumps there has not been a genuine big name since Sir Anthony McCoy retired. There has not been a remotely close title race for 25 years but Richard Johnson and Brian Hughes are level pegging and that would provide a good sub-pot to the last quarter of the season.

Great horses come and go. Enable, who just failed in her attempt to become the first horse to win three Prix de L’Arc de Truiomphes, stays in training as a six-year-old in 2020 which should be interesting while, with Altior suffering his first defeat in 20 starts over obstacles, there is may be room at the top for a new jumping star at Cheltenham in March or for Altior to regain his crown.

<span>Enable failed in her attempt to become the first horse to win three Prix de L'Arc de Triomphes</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Enable failed in her attempt to become the first horse to win three Prix de L'Arc de Triomphes Credit: AFP

Strength in depth

Jump racing has been dominated by the old guard for some time now but with McCoy retired, Ruby Walsh gone and Davey Russell, Barry Geraghty, Robbie Power and Richard Johnson all late 30s or older all riding better than ever but in what must be considered the twilight of their careers, there are going to be some big changes in the next few years.

However, in Britain at any rate, for the first time in a while there appears to be a very strong group of young jockeys coming through, already winning big races, and if anyone of them keeps progressing they could rule the roost for some time and it should also be remembered that Harry Cobden, first jockey – a notoriously hard position to hang on to - to Paul Nicholls, is still only 21 and has a wealth of big race experience.

Apart from Dettori the big races on the Flat tend to be shared among the few; Moore, James Doyle, William Buick and Murphy but that has always been the case. One always hopes the apprentice champion can go on and make it to the top and if nothing else Cieren Fallon, the son of Kieren, has the pedigree to go all the way.

John Gosden here and Aidan O’Brien in Ireland continue to dominate the best races with the best horses, Mark Johnston dominates numerically while Godolphin and Coolmore are the two big superpower owners on the Flat even if that is no longer a cold war.

Biggest off-field headache

For nearly every year of the four decades I have been actively involved with racing the sport has been parked one step back from the cliff edge to the financial abyss. Every time something has rescued it - to a point. Funding is a perennial problem for racing.

The Levy remains its central funding mechanism and for as long as it is based on profits rather than turnover it is susceptible to ups and downs within the betting sector and, after a bad Cheltenham for bookies, there was a significant drop in Levy income. The sport will be hoping for a few long priced winners and a bungee effect on income in 2020.

There is also the issue of re-shaping media rights for the on-line market between the bookmakers and the racecourses and the various media rights groups with the British Horseracing Authority working to broker a deal in the back ground.

Welfare is another issue with which racing must grapple and the pressure from without the sport is only going to grow. The BHA does everything in its power to reduce accidents to horses and a lengthy report into the fatalities at Cheltenham in 2019 made lots of recommendations which are already in place.

One of those recommendations, a Horse Welfare Board, has already been formed and will publish its strategy in February which could be one of the most important moments for racing in 2020. Its key points will be to look at safety, a horse’s whole life care, make recommendations on the whip and communication of the sports welfare standards.

Hottest ticket

The Randox Health Grand National on April 4 if Tiger Roll goes for a third win in the race. I say ‘if’ because he is recovering from a small operation to his joint (ankle) to have a chip removed and his owner Michael O’Leary likes to play games with the handicapper threatening not to run him if he gets a big weight.

However the fact is, even though the race is much changed, that not even Red Rum won three on the bounce.

Trained on the sands at Southport from the back of a second hand car dealer by Ginger McCain, Tiger Roll, owned by the chief executive of Ryanair and trained by a champion trainer in waiting, may not quite match Red Rum for romance but to win it three times would be very special and it would spark plenty of healthy debate about who is the better.

One prediction 

You would have thought darts had invented mixed sex competition when Fallon Sherrock reached the third round of the PDC World Championships at the end of 2019. But ever since Diana Henderson (nee Thorne) became the first female jockey to beat the men when she won the Nimrod Hunter Chase at Stratford in February 1976, racing has been a level playing field.

On the Flat Hollie Doyle has just become the third female to ride 100 winners in a calendar year and Hayley Turner was the first to ride a winner at Royal Ascot for 32 years last June and the bar is being gradually raised.

In jump racing there is a core of good girls like Bridget Andrews, Lizzie Kelly and Bryony Frost who are all the equal of the best men.

But, in Ireland, and therefore Cheltenham, there is the chance of a serious breakthrough in a proper championship contest with the way in which Rachael Blackmore is riding at the moment.

Without an injury in the summer she would be challenging again for Irish jump jockey title honours but, unlike the others, she has what even the best males jockeys need; a first jockeys’ job in a powerful yard.

While Frost and Andrews relying on the crumbs from Harry Cobden or Harry Skelton’s table for good rides or in in the case of Kelly who is reliant on her parents finding a champion for her to ride from a small pool of horses, as first jockey to Henry de Bromhead, Blackmore could very easily ride a Gold Cup, Champion Chase or National winner; if not in 2020, sometime in the very near future.

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