Thornton salutes Chester initiative
Tuesday 25 September 2012
Andrew Thornton has hailed the ingenuity of officials at Chester after the track confirmed a trial into the possibility of staging summer jumps racing.
The management at the Roodee are mulling the prospect of running hurdle races around the famously tight circuit, with a schooling session planned for Monday. Top trainer Donald McCain, who is based locally, will provide the horses for the trial, which will also be attended by a representative of the British Horseracing Authority.
Four flights of hurdles are due to be set up, with McCain's inmates working over two miles under experienced riders. Cheltenham Gold Cup-winner rider Thornton and his weighing room colleague Richie McGrath will be in attendance in their roles as jockeys' safety officers.
Thornton said: "I'm going to be there on Monday and I think it's a very exciting idea. I take my hat off to Chester for taking the initiative. I know people will have their doubts as Chester is renowned as being a tight track, but Fakenham is just as sharp and nobody bats an eyelid there. At Fakenham, you jump the last hurdle four times over three miles and you're racing downhill past the stands. At Chester, after the turn for home, it's largely flat."
Thornton and McGrath will be looking at a number of criteria as McCain's horses are put through their paces.
Thornton added: "I'll be there as a safety officer and I suppose one of the main things to consider would be the siting of the hurdles. We'll also be looking at run-out areas but Chester has always seemed like a big, wide, open space so that shouldn't be a problem. The ground wouldn't be a problem either as Chester quite often catches a shower, particularly at this time of year which is when they are talking about racing."
While Thornton is upbeat about the prospects of jump racing being added to Chester's calendar, former Grand National-winning pilot Mick Fitzgerald is concerned by the layout of the track, but does see the attraction of the venue.
He told At The Races: "There's no doubt that jump racing can be held on a circular track, but the problem is could it be held on one as small as Chester? That would be the worry for me. Cartmel is quite a tight track and there are very sharp bends there. The problem would be field sizes, I would think. Would you be able to have enough runners? And you're going to have the same old thing at Chester - you are going to have an absolute scrum for that inside over hurdles. There could be a lot of horses getting bowled over trying to get that inside line.
"If they do have hurdle racing at Chester, people will take it seriously. Chester is not a million miles from Liverpool and people from there will come out to watch racing there. It will be a big occasion and if they had a two-day meeting, throw in some Flat racing and there would be a great atmosphere and I'm sure the lads will love to sample the delights of Chester. Racing there would make for some very exciting viewing."
With the fixture list for next year set to be unveiled in the coming days, it would be 2014 before Chester could start jump racing. However, clerk of the course Andrew Morris is eager to see how the trial goes, saying: "This is just one of a number of ideas that have been discussed and talked about. At the moment we are purely at the stage of just working out if it would be possible but there are no plans or decisions on what might happen in the future. It would be just hurdles. We are in discussions with the BHA and they are providing assistance and guidance and things like that."