A competitive member of my golf club who takes a casual but cynical interest in the Alex Timpson string asked me a challenging question last weekend. "What does your wife hope to achieve next season?"
I didn't give him an honest answer. The truth is that Alex will be happy as long as Cobblers Queen successfully delivers the expected foal and all her horses stay fit enough to run plenty of races.
"Hopefully Alex will at least match the eight wins she had last season," I replied.
"I was really wondering how much money you hope to make," he asked with a hint of mischief.
"I think you know the answer to that," I replied,” if we have a good season we might get half our expenditure back in prize money."
"So," he replied as a parting shot, "you are a bound to be a loser."
The conversation made me think. The racing game gives us very little chance of winning big money but perhaps the racecourse owners and the Jockey Club could create a few more ways for owners to enjoy success – after all very few of us are going to get into the winners enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival.
All the big fun and the headlines go to owners that can afford to pay the six-figure sum paid for the quality of horses that qualify to join a top trainer's stable. It is time that the owners of honest 0–110 handicap horses had a more competitive programme.
Why not learn a few lessons from football and organise horses in a league system with promotion and relegation at the end of the season? Every horse in each division would make eight appearances each season with points scored according to the finishing position in each race (similar to Formula One). Every week we could see Alex's horses listed in their league table (I guess most would be in the equivalent of The Evo-Stik Northern Premier League).
To make it even more interesting we could have a knock-out cup competition with the first six horses in each race going through to the next round. With 1,500 entrants and 18 runners in each field there would be four rounds before the final which could be a way for competitive Class 5 horses to appear at Cheltenham.
Until someone injects a more competitive edge we will have to go along with the current system. We hope to start our season next Thursday when Key Cutter is entered in the Vera Davies Cup (Handicap Chase) at 3.15 at Ludlow. We won't be competing for a place in a next round or fighting for league points we will simply be hoping for a share of the modest prize money on offer.
But Alex is not as competitive as me or my friend from the golf club. If Key Cutter comes third and only wins enough money to pay for the horse box from Banbury, Alex will consider it has been a very successful day out.