The future of Scandinavian steeplechase to be decided on Saturday by Amie Karlsson
Norweigan-trained Bank of Burden, ridden by Swedish jockey Per Anders Gråberg, wins Stockholm Cup (Gr3) for the fourth time. Photos: Stefan Olsson/Svensk Galopp and Amie Karlsson
Last time I wrote a blog post, I was sitting on a train on the way to Stockholm for the yearling sale and one of Swedens’s premier race days featuring the Stockholm Cup (Gr 3) as well as a number of Listed-races. It ended up being a fantastic weekend. Norwegian-trained Bank of Burden and local jockey Per Anders Gråberg won the main race for the fourth time and the sale went better than what anyone would have guessed. The Scandinavian Open Yearling Sale in Denmark a few days later was even more successful, and although the average selling prices still look silly in comparison to Tattersalls this week, it is a huge step in the right direction for the breeding industry in the Scandinavian countries. For the first time in years, the Scandinavian breeders are optimistic about the future.
Marek Stromsky, who was second in the Swedish Grand National this year, rides Nikas to victory in Velka Pardubicka in Czech Republik last Sunday. Photo: Amie Karlsson
I've could have written a blog post just about this, but as the jump racing fan I am, I will instead focus on something completely different: Swedish steeplechase. In fact, when writing this blog post I am on a plane on the way home from Czech Republic, where I have spent the weekend in Pardubice watching some high class jump racing. No Scandinavian runners or riders this year unfortunately, but it was good to see Marek Stromsky (who was second in the Swedish Grand National in June) win the main race of the weekend, the Velka Pardubicka. In fact he was first across the line the last time I was there too, in 2008, but ended up being disqualified. But now I'm getting off topic again - for what I am meant to focus on is what currently is going on in Sweden.
The Swedish jump racing season runs between May and October, as our cold climate prevents us from staging races on anything but dirt track during the winter and spring. Jump racing in the Scandinavian countries has been threatened for years but amazingly kept going and a handful of races are staged in both Sweden and Norway each year (although the latter only hosts hurdle races nowadays).
One of the very last steeplechase races at Täby Galopp in September 2015. Photo: Stefan Olsson/Svensk Galopp.
This Sunday, the Swedish National Hunt season comes to and end with a steeplechase and a hurdle race at Täby Galopp’s St Leger-meeting. This is the last two jump races ever to be run at Täby Galopp, as it is closing at the beginning of next year when the new Stockholm racecourse Bro Park will open its doors. However, as it is yet to be decided whether the new racecourse is going to stage steeplechases or not, the race over fences on Sunday might in fact be the very last steeplechase in Stockholm - or possibly in the whole of Scandinavia - ever.
Unlike the Scandinavian breeders, the Scandinavian jump racing enthusiasts have every reason not to be very happy at the moment. On Saturday, the members of the General Assembly of the Swedish Horseracing Authority will gather for their autumn meeting, and their most important topic will be to decide whether separate jump courses shall be built on the new racecourse, or not. The board of directors are very open with the fact that "not" is their preferred option, which would mean that hurdle races will be run over portable EasyFix hurdles on the main turf course, and steeplechase racing to stop completely.
If the "not"-side wins, that would be a huge blow to the Scandinavian jump racing scene. Täby Galopp is currently the only racecourse in Scandinavia hosting steeplechases apart from nearby Strömsholm, whose once-a-year-only meeting features the Swedish Grand National and one more steeplechase race. A "no" on Saturday would therefore mean that the number of steeplechases in Sweden per year will be reduced to two. Or even zero, as someone at the top of the pyramid of the Swedish Horseracing Authority recently suggested that the Swedish Grand National (and the other steeplechase race on the Strömsholm card) should be modified slightly - that is, to be over hurdles rather than fences...
Although jump racing apparently isn't very popular among the board of directors, it is a lot more popular "on the ground" and especially the Strömsholm meeting has got a lot of support (and even attracts a bigger crowd than the Swedish Derby). When the fantastic idea of transforming Grand National to a hurdle race reached the masses, people got really quite pissed off, and someone came up with the idea of starting an association to promote racing at Strömsholm as well as Swedish jump racing in general. Said and done, and "Strömsholms Galoppsällskap" was launched in the beginning of the month. In just over a week it has got more than 400 members (Dave from tips4punters became number 300!) which, as far as I am concerned, is more than any other organisation or association in Swedish racing (one have to remember that racing in Sweden isn't very big!). The fact that membership is free might help, but it also proves that there is a lot of support for the cause, and they are now doing their best to lobby for the future of National Hunt in Sweden.
One doesn't have to live in Sweden in order to become a member, so anyone that would like to show their support for the most awesome race day in Scandinavia (The Swedish Grand National day, that is!) and to help saving steeplechase racing in Sweden, is very welcome to join us. Just e-mail your name, address, phone, e-mail and year of birth to [email protected] and join the coolest racing association ever!