Updated: Jan 3
The series starts at Waregem in Belgium, usually around the time of the August bank holiday. The Grand Steeplechase de Flandres is a terrific race, and should absolutely be on the bucket list of anyone who loves jump racing - particularly as it usually takes place in the summer sunshine! From there, the series moves on to encompass Merano in Italy. That location, no question, makes it one of the most stunning racecourses in the world. Anyone who goes to Merano asks how people don't know about it... it's one of racing's best kept secrets.
Meanwhile, everyone knows that the Velká Pardubická is one of the world's most grueling and difficult steeplechases. It is, indeed, one of the greatest racing spectacles on Earth. But the series also takes in Cheltenham and various races in France, finishing at Lion d'Angers in May. Pardubice is on every jockey's bucket list but, speaking to people, I think Merano is the most difficult course to navigate. I don't know how jockeys find their way around these places... and sometimes they don't! I remember being at Merano a couple of years ago when the top favourite, about five fences out, went out on the wrong course. It's that element of surprise that makes these races so appealing.
For me, cross country is the very essence of jump racing. Jump racing is strong in the Czech Republic, and top trainers there pop up to win a number of Crystal Cup races... as does Patrice Quinton, who's a big French trainer and very supportive of the series. Plans are always being reviewed. For example, there's a big cross country event in Germany now, so there are discussions on whether to welcome the Germans with that race . I think, in the UK, we're in a privileged position: we're home to the best jump racing in the world. But it's important we're there to nurture and support racing across Europe, strengthening the sport beyond our shores.