The end of 2020 is almost here and around the world, all one hears are choruses of “good riddance.” Certainly our sport of steeplechasing was negatively impacted when one looks at the numbers. Racing opportunities severely curtailed. Purses cut by 70%. Our jockey colony diminished by injury, sickness and immigration limitations. No spectators at most race meets that did run. Certainly a collective “whoa is me” would be in order.
But out of the chaos of adversity comes opportunity for those willing to persevere. In order to have any chance of racing this year, the condition book had to be completely reinvented and then modified daily. NSA communications with SOTA representatives created a workable racing program within the severe pandemic limitations and forged a very synergistic relationship that will serve us all well in the future.
Despite no guarantee of running, our owners kept the faith and their horses in work. Their generosity enabled the trainers and staff to continue training and stay employed. Race meets found ways to put on 10 and 11 race cards with no spectators and asked their volunteers to spend nine hours in masks and bring their own lunch.
New ways of funding steeplechase racing were highlighted in Virginia and will serve as examples for other states.
When there was no funding for live streaming, old and new benefactors stepped up and enabled us to broadcast our races. This live stream effort showed great advancement in all areas over this year, and now shows commercial potential for the future.
Our newly created social media team’s posts kept us aware, informed and entertained.
This was the first year in a long time that we were able to card and run all of our hurdle races at Saratoga, despite the severe sequestration required of the riders and limitations imposed on trainers and staff. We had a significant presence at Colonial Downs that was curtailed when the pandemic devastated the flat jockey colony and racing was canceled.
By design and necessity, we increased the opportunities for apprentice and amateur riders by working with SOTA to modify the regulations and card many more restricted races. Twenty amateur/apprentice riders went to post at NSA race meets this season, and some of our young riders went on to win in open company. This bodes well for the future of our American jockey colony.
The Temple Gwathmey Steeplechase Foundation worked in synchrony with the NSA to keep our steeplechase community well informed. They also financed the procurement and delivery of a new generation of a hurdle fence to be trialed and then utilized this coming season.
The steeplechase community did not quit. Rather, in this struggle, we were persistent, resilient and cohesive. The spring season will continue to challenge us but this past year has served to put us in a position to weather that storm too.
It is with great enthusiasm that I look forward to working with our steeplechase community to again meet the challenge.
Happy New Year, and stay well!
Alfred C. Griffin, Jr.
President, National Steeplechase Association