Readers deliver their verdicts in the compelling debate
It has to be the Flat for these three reasons – speed, excitement and competitive racing. I've been attending the Cheltenham Festival since 1985 and much as I love it, the festival dwarfs everything else in the jumps season so much nowadays, that the rest of the year often lacks real competitive racing.
And competition is what excites me most about racing. On the Flat, the best horses clash frequently and owners and trainers are not afraid to lose. Sea The Stars danced every dance in his Classic season, as did Minding last year. They probably had more competitive races in a season than the top jumps horses have in two or three seasons.
I love the excitement of a close finish with two horses flying towards the winning line. Who can forget Giant's Causeway winning four Group 1s in tight photo finishes! There is so much variety available on a Flat racing day, from viewing two-year-olds in the paddock, to a big field sprint handicap and you never know when you might see the next superstar. I was at Newmarket on a wet Friday night, when a young colt named Frankel made his debut.
Each great in its own season
It’s May, so the answer is Flat, the Guineas meeting with the new Classic stars arriving, and sometimes disappearing almost as quickly. Followed by Chester and the Dante York meeting with Classic clues and crazy, long distance handicaps round endless bends.
Like everyone else, though, my favourite meeting, by far, is Cheltenham in March – the end of a long build up, which these days seems to start in November and build inexorably and with almost unbearable intensity to those magical four days. Preview meetings all over the land (both lands) help with the build up. And the next best meeting is probably the Aintree Grand National meeting. The jumps season also provides an exciting mid-season crescendo with the big meetings at Kempton, Chepstow, Newbury and Leepardstown over the December/January holiday period.
However, the Flat season has its own rhythm. We’ve covered May. June has the Derby and Ascot meetings, towering giants of the season both, then we’re into Newmarket July, and that amazing week at the end of the same month when we have Goodwood and Galway at the same time. Just time to catch breath before the party carries on with York’s August meeting, and, for lovers of French racing like me, the enticing charms of a month in Deauville, followed by the Doncaster Leger show in September, with the Arc and Champion Stakes meetings to follow the next month.
So my answer to the question is either both, or, more obtusely, Flat in the Flat season, jumps in the NH season. I’m not evading the question – just rejoicing in the wonderful variety we have here, and the different joys each code provides.
I'll opt for the jumping game
Over two miles and more you have a chance as a spectator to catch your breath, take stock and marvel at the sheer skill of horses who have been taught to jump, the good ones low and fast.
As important is the bravery, concentration, commitment, dedication and talent of NH jockeys. Anyone who witnessed our stable jockey's recent ride on Altior at Sandown will have seen all those qualifications in spades. To jump twelve fences at great speed in harmony with your partner, having to measure each jump so precisely is the ultimate in horsemanship. Likewise was there ever a better sight than three of the best riders and horses giving their all over the last in the Gold Cup at Punchestown last week. It's all about thrills and spills and minute margins of error at the highest level.
Without any denigration of the many shared skills of the Flat fraternity, equine and human, it has to be the jumps that is the winner.
I'm nailing my colours to the Flat
Flat racing, especially summer flat racing, is quite a sight to behold. The vibrancy of the jockeys' skills against the backdrop of a clear blue sky while they sit atop the gleaming, sun-kissed equine athletes is a vision in itself. Add in the glamorous attire of many a racegoer with the lush turf underneath and you've got an image fit for any frame to encase.
The buzz and excitement at the track when a potential superstar of regal breeding is unleashed is unique. Gates crash open and runners hurtle past you at thunderous speed before a crescendo of noise emanates from the stands when the winning post draws near. That thrill of a close finish attacks the senses once more.
Speaking of Moore, he of the Ryan variety is a global icon. How many other sports do you get to be mere feet away from sporting talent appreciated around the world? People in America, Australia, Asia, they all know and adore him. So to watch him weave his magic on a British track is a pleasure.
Horses sweeping around bends, flying down the straight and passing each other in the final 100 yards of a race gets the heart pounding and adrenaline pumping. A fabulous day out in the summer sunshine, Flat racing has it all. Brilliance on four legs and in the saddle coupled with laughter, enjoyment, excitement and euphoria in the stands.
So many individual and superb courses to choose from. Make sure you experience at least one of them in 2017 . . .
Got to be Flat and Royal Ascot
There are other things that I could do in my spare time, but there's really nothing that I love as much as Flat racing, in particular Royal Ascot . . . The company, the climate, the racing, the Royal Family, the bookmakers, the champagne etc . . . I have stood in the owners and trainers car park at Royal Ascot and been offered, in the space of ten minutes, a poached salmon (whole), the front and back end of a horse, a free trip to the Breeders' Cup, marriage x 3, a large loan, eight tips for a eight-horse race, numerous second-hand cars, a duel at dawn, and the copyright to a super model's life story.
An educated Del Boy’s day out!
Jumps is ‘sport’, Flat is a ‘business’
Jumps sees the same horses come back year after year. Flat horses go to stud if they are any good – the rest end up on dirt tracks.
Jumps sees good horses, of different ages, competing against each other.
Jumps meetings are friendly and many of the racegoers just go because they like racing!
Jumps is claimed to be cruel – but who keeps the stats on the amount of Flat horses that are sold for racing but never make the racetrack?
Even a mediocre jumps race . . .
I agree wholeheartedly with Luke Harvey that watching a mediocre race over jumps is far more of a spectacle and more exciting than the Flat equivalent. I have been to most of the big tracks and meetings in the UK under both codes as well as the smaller courses in addition to plenty across Europe including Longchamp for the Arc and also Chilivani, Sassari and Poetto in Sardinia, Nicosia in Cyprus etc.
While Longchamp serves up a feast which even Royal Ascot cannot match in my opinion, I find that apart from the Arc winner I struggle to remember the other races. By contrast I can remember so much from even the smallest of jumps meetings.
Perhaps it is because the horses are around much longer in NH racing that the names become embedded in our memories and conjure up images that stay with us for a lifetime. Flat Racing tends to pass by in a blur and unless a successful bet or a bad loss has been experienced the horses are generally forgotten. Of course
the once in a lifetime event such as Sea The Stars winning the Arc will forever be remembered, the day to day Flat racing rarely leaves me with anything to reminisce about.
By contrast I remember horses I have backed from 40 years ago at minor jumps meetings such as Edinburgh, Wetherby, Fakenham. The spectacle of watching horses running directly towards you at the likes of Newmarket cannot compare with watching a chase around Fakenham. People get closer to the action, the horses and the
connections at a jumps meeting than they ever will at a Flat meeting, giving a feeling of being involved.
Longevity is the secret ingredient that sets the jumps apart – add to that the less pretentious atmosphere and the true died in the wool enthusiasts who freeze their nuts off on a cold December to watch the jumpers and you get the gist that the jumps is more about the sport and horses than the dressed up hordes who would not know one end of a horse from the other, never mind name one, at the likes of Royal Ascot or Newmarket's Friday night pop concert.
I went to the 1987 Cheltenham Festival from Sardinia where I was based, I flew in a Hercules C130 via Germany to Brize Norton, bus to Oxford, train to Cheltenham, taxi to hotel. On the return I travelled by bus, train and ferry eventually to the hook of Holland. Train and taxi to Rheindahlen where I purchased a car with my winnings. Then drove through Germany, Switzerland and Italy to Genova, by ferry to Porto Torres and then drove the length of Sardinia to my home near
Cagliari. Courtesy of See You Then and Gee A as the main benefactors, I was sitting on my veranda with a cold beer and a new car in the drive by the Sunday of that tremendous week, having only days earlier questioned my sanity while standing in the snow storm praying the Gold cup would go ahead. Forgive'n Forget cost
me a small fortune but I forgave the weather and had the three best days of my life which I will never forget.
Would I have done all this for a Flat meeting? Never in a million years, not for the Arc, not even for the the Breeders' Cup – by
contrast I would have crawled on my hands and knees to Cheltenham just to repeat my experience.
I once asked my ex how she fancied Fakenham for the day, she replied dead pan "I have been for years". You just could not get that on the Flat, could you?
No finer sight than a Flat champ
Flat. I remember as a young boy, watching captivated by the Grand Nationals back in the early-mid 1970s as Red Rum, Crisp and L'Escargot became Aintree legends, and the Cheltenham Festivals when the likes of Ten Up and Tied Cottage used to run up to their ears in March mud and sleet.
Timeless heroes such as Night Nurse, Sea Pigeon, Monksfield and old Bird's Nest, will forever hold a special place in my heart, as will the great Desert Orchid and the Dickinson champions Wayward Lad and Silver Buck, but now in my 50s, I have long became a purist of the Flat and the bloodstock industry.
I still love to watch the winter game, and Altior is one of the most exciting and talented prospects I have seen in many a year – I really hope he becomes an absolute legend.
But there is no finer sight than watching an outstanding champion thoroughbred storming home with overwhelming superiority in a Classic or European Group 1, proving himself the King of Kings or a Queen of the Turf just like the brilliant Minding.
Flat racing, apart from having far fewer injuries than jumping, has the most esteemed and prestigious races in the world, and is now such a global product, encapsulated by mighty bloodstock empires such as Coolmore, Godolphin, Juddmonte , and the Aga Khan studs.
British racing is steeped in history and tradition which is unsurpassed anywhere in the world, from the five domestic Classics to the Derby and the glittering grandeur of Royal Ascot, and truly great racehorses who have became landmarks within the pages of turf history, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Shergar, Sea The Stars, Frankel, and the best one I have seen in the flesh, Dancing Brave.
Yes I adore both codes, but from a professional and purists' viewpoint, the Flat will always come first.
Both are just as good
The simple answer to your question is BOTH. My own preference is for top-quality racing Flat or jumps.
From a personal point of view I always follow the Flat during the summer, the jumps during the winter and both in spring and autumn.
We are blessed in Britain and Ireland to have such diversity in our racing.
From the Classics, the Gold Cups, the various Grand Nationals, the Heritage Handicaps, the big handicap chases and hurdles, [to] the two-year-olds, the novice hurdlers and chasers. It's all fantastic.
I do not agree with the view that jump racing is somehow better just because the horses come back year after year. Flat racing is different and has it's appeal in that the champions of a particular year will hopefully be the top stallions and broodmares of the future.
In summing up both codes are superb but for different reasons.
Mr "Scouse" Dwyer, tweed beats shell suits any day!