There's been a lot of navel gazing going on in racing circles this week about the relative importance of the Cheltenham Festival to the other 361 days of racing every year. Some columnists have commented that the season has now become too concentric around those magical four days.
I don't recall anyone saying the same thing about Royal Ascot, which for sustained quality, has to surpass anything else the Flat calendar can put on.
Ironically, it's these same columnists who have been writing up the importance of Cheltenham in order to create newsworthy copy, who identify candidates for the Supreme Novices as early as August, and who ask each winning trainer what race he might be targetting at the Festival. If you perceive the importance of Cheltenham to be a problem, then ask too who created the problem.
And it's worth adding that other racecourses have been as guilty in ceding leadership to the Festival. The number of festival trial races is legion, from Musselburgh to Plumpton. We are all invested, directly or indirectly in the same storyline.
It's not as if another racecourse could not actually create a rival event. In football, there seems to be an endless stream of wealthy men and organisations buying trophy teams and investing crazy sums to win the Premiership in an orgy of ego. Frankly, buying a racecourse and spending £5m on a splendid festival would look cheap by comparison! Nor is there any shortage of wealthy men supporting racing, but I don't believe anyone's asked them that question.
Every sport has a championships around which they can build loyalty, and through which they can break through to audiences who don't have time or inclination to follow the sport on a day to day basis. In a previous career selling sponsorship at Cheltenham, I was able to use this to build campaigns for the likes of Glenfarclas, Unibet, Pertemps, Ballymore, OLBG, JCB and Skybet, supporting the key trials (largely Pattern races) that help identify the peers of their generation. We called it the "road to Cheltenham", as it readily identified the hoops aspirant champion horses in each age, distance or race category would need to win to reach the top of their tree.
If only we were able to generate the same awareness around our Point-to-Point sport. The National sponsors (of which there are pitifully few) could all converge their campaigns to one grand finale at Stratford on the final Friday evening of May, where a superlative card of hunter chases already exists.
This is the story we should be pitching to existing sponsors and to each of our loyal supporters on a local level. Put simply, campaigns of this nature offer a ready-made storyboard around which to build and sustain a narrative throughout what might be a 6 month campaign.
Our sport of Pointing is commendably led presently, with much work achieved to manage a Spring-heavy fixture list and to simply get us back racing during these Covid-restricted times. But we also need the impetus only the centre can give to drive the general direction of the sport. Participants, whether riders, trainers or owners, need targets to aim at, races they can say afterwards, "I won the championship for XX". And whilst the three key Foxhunter chases fulfil part of that aspiration, they also allow the professional cadre of the sport to harvest them too at our expense with horses you see sparingly if at all between the flags.
So next time you hear a columnist say the season isn't all about Cheltenham, reflect on the lustre that Cheltenham also brings in reverse to other races. Our visibility overall is greatly improved for having such a successful event at the heart of our sport.