IF HORSE racing is the sport of kings then flapping must certainly be the sport of the people – in the Borders, at least.
Throughout the summer local racegoers flock to meetings at Langholm, Hawick Moor, Selkirk (Gala Rig) and further afield to Irvine and Aberdeen.
More than 2,000 of them gathered round the track at the Hawick Common Riding meeting this year to watch former pro jockey Tyrone Williams steer Taff Trail to victory in the Tradesman’s handicap.
The following week hundreds arrived at Gala Rig to watch Highfield Prince win the prestigious Golden Mile under the guidance of Hawick jockey Bruce Gibson.
So, why will the Jockey Club of Great Britain not recognise and encourage the sport which has been alive and kicking in this area as far back as the days of the Border Reivers?
That is the question on the lips of the local horse racing associations and one they are more keen than ever to get answered.
Stevie Ellwood has been commentating on flapping races for the last two decades and is vice-president of Langholm Horse Racing Association (LHRA).
He told TheSouthern: “We don’t get any coverage or exposure from the proper racing authorities and that’s unfortunate because we’re not doing anything wrong.
“We have a handicapping system, horse passports, registered jockeys, insurance, a code of conduct, a clerk of course and even a clerk of scales.
“The horses that come flapping do so mostly because they just don’t make the grade under rules and because of that these horses are treated with great respect and tlc. They are far better off with us than boxed up in a racing yard.
“It would be nice if the Jockey Club would come and see exactly what we do here. We would certainly welcome them with open arms at Langholm.
So why do the Borders people love the sport of flapping so much? Stevie said: “It’s very expensive to keep a horse under rules and flapping provides a way for people to get the massive enjoyment horse racing provides without the cost endured by more serious racehorse owners.
“The buzz at some of our meetings is far greater than you would ever get at some of the bigger racetracks. It’s like this big pie that everyone can have a slice of. Everybody knows everyone else and the banter is second to none, it’s pure magic. And, most of all it’s great fun.
The Border Horse Racing Association was formed in the 1970s before Langholm, Hawick and Selkirk branched off into three separate bodies. In the early days flapping meetings were only run at Common Ridings, but such was the popularity of the sport that individual meetings began to spring up throughout the flat racing season (spring to autumn).
Feelings run strong on the local circuit with people like Ronnie Frost and Lyndsay Nichol (Hawick Horse Racing Association) Gordon Newlands (Selkirk) and Langholm’s Colin Barnfeather among the many who are vocal in their support of flapping.
Barnfeather said: “If you just look at the number of jockeys that have came on through pony racing and flapping and then went on to be a success under rules it just shows you what an integral part it has to play in horse racing as a whole.
“Ian Jardine, Bruce Gibson, the Berridge brothers and Keith Dalgleish, to name but a few, all rode flappers in their youth. Keith went on to ride 19 group winners on the flat before retiring because of weight problems. A good part of their success can be put down to experience they gained through flapping.
“Certainly, away back in the past, flapping was bandit country, but to an extent so was racing under rules and we have progressed from that, as have they.
“You see so many riders on the point-to-point circuit, which is recognised, and they are nowhere near as good as the riders we have here. Everyone should be treated the same.”
Gala Rig at Selkirk is rumoured to be the oldest race course in the country and although they currently only run a meeting once a year at the Common Riding, the Rig committee are also looking to add to their fixtures.
Newlands explained: “Three years ago we had four racehorses turn up for four races.
We cancelled all but one that year as the Golden Mile was still run. A new committee was formed and specific job descriptions were given to members. Mine was to try and get the number of horses coming increased. The next year we had 23 horses entered and had a great meeting.
“This year we had one of the biggest crowds on recent record. The enthusiasm for the Rig by the racehorse trainers and owners is there, we just need to capture that enthusiasm every year.
“We have a great meeting with some great support from outwith and in the area. The committee is grateful for this support and will try to build on this for next year. Three days have been added into the Smedheugh tenancy agreement with a view to possibly holding another meeting in August 2010.
“All in all, the future looks rosy for the Rig and we are determined to succeed.”
Even the bookies join in the banter on the flapping circuit. Archie Scott has had his pitch at all the local courses since 1975.
He told us: “There’s such a great camaraderie and friendship at the flapping.
“I’ve made a lot of friends and I suppose I’ve made some money as well along the way.
“It’s a lot stricter now than it used to be and these guys running it now keep a very close eye on things, so it’s all good for the sport. Long may it go on.”
Forthcoming fixtures: Friday, July 17, 6.30pm (time TBC), LHRA, Langholm; Friday July 31, 2pm, Langholm Common Riding; Saturday August 1, 2pm, LHRA, Langholm.