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Wednesday, 16 January, 2019

Dublin debuts festival-plus while Cheltenham fans watch the clock

Robin Gibson monitors racing's long digital countdown to The Festival™

The Irish Gold Cup is the feature race on day two of next month's Dublin Racing Festival
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It's not unheard of to begin a new year with a nasty virus and you get what you deserve, or at least can't avoid. But for once you have to feel sorry for Apple, Google, Microsoft and all that lot.

They've had to kick off 2018 banging out fixes for Spectre and Meltdown when it wasn't their fault in the first place. Spectre and Meltdown – viruses that could, as their names suggest, haunt and destroy your digital life – are theoretically rampaging because of a flaw not in software but in chips. Intel and co have fitted five-lever mortice locks to the door but left a catflap swinging in the breeze.

Not that anyone seems too bothered. The virus scare is reminiscent of the Jerry Seinfeld routine about smokers blithely ignoring the lurid death warnings on fag packets while agonising over dry clean-only labels on their cardies. Some dangers are too big to worry about when instant gratification is the priority.

In jump racing, gratification is far from instant but finally the countdown is on for the real jumps season, when the horses start to race each other. And the clocks are ticking, assuming Spectre and Meltdown don't get to them.

Cheltenham's festival site has a big digital one with days, hours and minutes. It tweets updates too, the latest (at time of writing) advising "70 days to go" on January 2. Aintree has got in on the act, tweeting out "100 days to go" on January 4, giving keen clockwatchers quite a lot to absorb.

Both websites are good, although Aintree has a curiously constructed headline: "The pinnacle of the whole festival is the Grand National race." The Grand National race? SEO-ese, a blight for some, is creeping in everywhere.

The Grand National meeting is now the Grand National festival but unlike Cheltenham it's not The Festival™. It doesn't cost much to register a trade mark, according to the government, and searching them is interesting. The Festival of Quilts pops up next to our Festival, for example. Quite an event – four days at the NEC in Birmingham. More pertinently 'Grand National' is registered too by Jockey Club Racecourses. But you never see it, do you?

Never mind. Apart from a trade mark, Aintree has a new accolade. It's one of the top ten for sport and leisure in Historic England's History of England in 100 Places, along with the likes of Lord's, the All England Club, the Olympic Park and others.

Unfortunately, though, Aintree has the only entry that mentions a death rate: "Measures have been put in place . . . and the fatality rate has fallen by a third in the last 20 years." You know they mean well, but it could be put a bit better.

Aintree is keen to tell everyone that the Grand National is a race
In Ireland the festival pulse has quickened. Now there are a lot of so-called racing festivals, but many live up to their label no more convincingly than six pints of Kronenbourg and a kebab constitute a carnival of ale and international cuisine.

So credit to the makers of the Dublin Racing Festival, who with genius (it's all relative) created, as Julian Muscat put it, "out of virtually nowhere a meeting featuring seven Grade 1s and three Grade 2s with prize-money of €1.5 million".

The website doesn't underplay it. Leopardstown has gone the whole hog roast. You will be able to "dazzle your senses in a jubilant celebration of Dublin with a full entertainment programme that supports culture, comedy, music, culinary delights and fashion". Blimey.

Then, as if dissatisfied with this dazzling, it goes further, announcing that in addition to earlier claims it is "More than racing. More than a festival" – breaking through, as it were, from the suffocating atmosphere of festivals it had only just entered, to a new galaxy of festivals-plus, with a "stellar cast of musicians, DJs, street theatre and comedians from the fair city".

Headline acts are Damien Dempsey (top YouTube video: 486,000 views, pretty good), Stockton's Wing (230,000) and comedian Danny O'Brien, who is quite funny and tells a good Scottish joke.

The DRF couldn't be much more ambitious and has to be applauded. Meanwhile on the un-European side of the Irish Sea they just watch the clocks tick and fret over the Fibresand at Southwell.

Best idea came from Eddie Fremantle (@eddietheshoe), who tweeted: "Perhaps @SouthwellRacing should be radical and put Tapeta down in place of the jumps course, retain the Fibresand and have two Flat courses for year-round racing."

You can't argue with that. Well, I wouldn't. You probably can. FlatStats (@FlatStats) ran a poll (150 votes – not quite YouGov, but a sample) on what surface Southwell should have. Fibresand won with 49 per cent, with dirt second on 29 and the rest nowhere.

This dirt thing seems a bit ambitious. Surface aside, Southwell can't compete for glamorous context with Dubai, where connections can stretch out at the Burj Khalifa or the Atlantis Aquaventure Waterpark ("overflowing with 17 fun-filled hectares of adrenaline-pumping fun").

Number one thing to do in Southwell, according to TripAdvisor, is visit a church and number two is visit a workhouse (currently dormant). Reg Taylor's Garden Centre clocks in at four, one place above the racecourse.

The other World Cup, which in addition to Toast Of New York attracts lots of US contenders, is the Pegasus at Gulfstream, coming up soon. Last year the inaugural running was promoted by comedy fighter Conor McGregor in a series of amusing videos.

This year it's being promoted by, well, no-one. Still, there's a nifty bluffer's guide to the contenders, so it looks like it's going to take place.

Industry news: you find some startling nuggets in SBC's betting bulletin. The new boss of Paddy Power Betfair, Peter Jackson, has appointed Dan Taylor to the challenging new role of Chief Executive of Europe. Maybe he can sort out Brexit. 

Twitter: @surfnturfRP

If you enjoyed this, read more Surf & Turf:

Feeling left behind? Access to the internet could be the problem

It's easy to have a personalised Christmas but beware of the quality

Where were you when Denman won? Not on Twitter


Aintree has a curiously constructed headline: The pinnacle is the Grand National race. The Grand National race? SEO-ese is creeping in everywhere
E.W. Terms
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