National carnival always a treat

MATT MARKHAM
Last updated 05:00 04/08/2012

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OPINION: Dust off the tweed coat and don the flat cap, it's Grand National week at Riccarton, starting today .

Frilly dresses and top-of-the-line suits go out the window and moleskins make a comeback - it's old school racing at its best.

Three days of action, where the flat racing is well complimented by a plethora of jumping features.

Regarded as one of the best carnivals on the New Zealand racing calendar, Grand National week is highly anticipated and this year looks no different.

Today is headlined by the 115th running of the Winter Cup, a $100,000 Group Three event which has attracted a strong field of runners.

As well as the flat race feature are two jumping races - the Sydenham Hurdles and the Koral Steeplechase which are the traditional lead-up races to both the Grand National Steeplechase and Hurdles which are run next week.

After concerns around the numbers of jumping horses this season, it is pleasing to see good numbers for both races today.

An almost dying art in New Zealand, and certainly Australia, jumps racing comes with a public outcry to be banned because of the number of injuries and deaths suffered by horses racing over fences.

To those who don't agree with jumps racing, I suggest you get off your podiums at the front gates of Riccarton and actually take a look at how the industry works.

Horses are treated with time, effort, care and love and, above all, enjoy being racehorses.

The number of deaths and injuries in New Zealand has decreased rapidly with changes made to the way the races are run and the fences which are jumped.

As a spectacle, watching a full field of horses leap over a fence is about as good as it gets in racing, and it is certainly something we don't want to lose.

Adding to the thrill is the testing Riccarton course. Jockeys will tell you that Riccarton country is some of the toughest to ride on, and that just when you think you are getting on top of things another surprise gets thrown at you. Only the best can succeed out there, the toughest prosper while the weak tend to be found wanting.

So chuck some tobacco in the pipe, top up the whiskey and enjoy the week that's ahead.

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