John Holliday: Proactivity, not appeasement *H&H VIP*

Opinion

During February the Cattistock paid us a visit. They had an extremely successful day despite testing conditions and their hounds hunted superbly and never stopped trying.

George Pierce, their kennel-huntsman, is a fine example of the merits of the Hunt Staff Bursary Scheme. He began at the Ludlow and has steadily moved up through the ranks, gaining experience with different hunts and under several mentors. Now, after four seasons as kennel-huntsman to the Cattistock, he is the finished article and promotion surely beckons.

Accentuate the positives

The meet at Belvoir Castle brought the season to an end and the sound of clattering hooves had scarcely subsided before I was heading hot-foot to the Cheltenham Festival.

During my 14 years of leading in the winner of the Queen Mother Champion Chase when I hunted the Ledbury, I became a devoted follower of National Hunt racing. It has its foundations in the hunting field and still shares a close affinity. This year’s sport was of particularly high quality with many thrilling close finishes.

I am pleased that racing has retained high-profile television coverage for the major meetings and I have to say that ITV have developed their coverage into something that is close to very good.

The one thing they could yet improve, apart from slipping a couple of ACP tablets into Matt Chapman’s tea in the morning, is their reporting of injuries and fatalities. It sounds like a direct appeal to racing’s critics, who for the most part are “animal rights” campaigners.

I am not suggesting for one moment “covering up” or not reporting such moments, but the hand-wringing, heart-on-your sleeve method is surely a mistake. Fatalities are sad for all connections, but reporting should be just that, not an attempt to signal virtue.

The same applies to the British Horseracing Authority. I speak from bitter experience gained during the years spent on the hunting debate — you must be confident and proactive, accentuating the positives of a great sport.

Like all sports at the highest level, an element of danger exists. I think that this is something that reasonable people understand perfectly well. You will never appease narrow-minded, single-issue opponents who are animal rights extremists and whose only ambition is the eventual banning of all horse sports.

Top-quality racing

Continuing on a theme, the Belvoir point-to-point at Garthorpe recently enjoyed a vintage meeting with top-quality racing and a great attendance.

So many people, in fact, that race cards sold out, like at a funeral when the deceased turned out to be more popular than the family imagined. Not only that, but the bar ran dry of beer before the third race, which caused consternation to some.

This column could not help but note that the director of operations was none other than Toby Greenall, descendant of the mighty brewing dynasty of that name, whose forebears kept the tambourine a rollin’ at the Belvoir kennel for many years. Oh! The irony!

Ref Horse & Hound; 11 April 2019