Certain members of the Racing fraternity known to this writer must be doing serious head scratching at present. Think about this: two horses, broken as 3-year-olds almost two years ago. One ran in a bumper in Gowran Park at the end of May and hasn’t been on the track since. The other was in training for so long and didn’t get a run it has since been eased out of training again. In both cases, the major problem was ground conditions during what was a dire attempt at a summer. Many people will have had similar experiences. Recently though, other issues emerged which must raise questions about how meetings – or even individual races – are structured.
Pat Keane is one of if not the most eminent racing writer in this country. He recently did a piece, rightly outlining the lack of logic behind a recent fixture at Kilarney. To fill in the picture – one day of the recent four day festival at the Kerry track was lost to the weather. Instead of putting the re-fixture on what was a relatively quiet Sunday, the powers that be waited three days and staged it the following Tuesday. Surely the logical thing would’ve been to stage it on the Sunday when there was still an atmosphere and crowd around the place.
In the same article, reservations were also expressed about the makeup of the card and how the unattractiveness of it was only matched by the apathy of the racing public towards it. There’s no doubt a plethora of bad handicaps won’t exactly set the pulses racing. Framing a card in such a way would have to be seen as questionable tactics in tough times.
Racing needs all the promotion it can get. Gut feeling was that the passing of Lord Oaksey and the forthcoming changes regarding racing coverage heralded a change in the scene. Maybe not for the better either. All of the above are only minor gripes compared to the main reason that brought about the column you’re now reading.
On the fifth day of the Listowel festival, the concluding bumper featured only two runners. At this point, it must be stated that neither of the horses referred to earlier would’ve been eligible for the contest as it was a winners bumper, but, how the contest only managed to attract two runners is difficult to fathom.
There had to be more than two horses somewhere out there that had won races and were in need of another. Granted, those cursed ground conditions would again have put some folk off. However, we’re heading deeper in National Hunt time of year now. So there had to be horses ready to run in some yard.
The big question is why were there only two declared? Current economic climate is of course a factor. Numbers of horses in training are down. As is prize money. My sources in fact tell me that some high profile establishments are just about staying above water. Yet, thus far at least, things haven’t got as bad they are across the water where smaller tracks like Hereford and Folkstone are seemingly in jeopardy.
Two runners in a race is not good though. You wonder in one way was the presence of a Willie Mullins trained odds on shot the big put off. Annie Power had looked superb in winning on her two outings for Jim Bolger. This corner hoped that the master of Coolcullen would hold onto her and have a few runners over jumps. Alas, it didn’t happen. Once the filly was snapped up by Mullins to run in the Ricci silks, she was bound to go off a warm order. That being a prohibitive factor misses the point though. Put simply, if there were more opponents than John Long’s Vintage Supreme, Paddy Mullins’ mount wouldn’t have gone off 1/10f. Now, the horse was guaranteed to be favourite, but not that much of a hotpot.
The only conclusion yours truly can arrive at is that the problem lies with Horse Racing Ireland. For, as disappointing as things like poorly planned fixtures and races with poor numbers are from a spectator’s viewpoint, in terms of marketing the popularity of the sport and marketing it commercially, it’s damaging.
Horses, their owners and trainers are of course of paramount importance in all this. It runs deeper than that however. Racing needs to market itself in order to generate the support it needs to prosper. That applies, maybe most importantly, in financial terms. Put it this way – nearly every race now is sponsored. Furthermore, one of the grand things racing does is to honour former bastions of the sport with races named in their honour. Such people, along with sponsors, could rightly feel short changed by low quality cards and paltry fields.
Can you imagine, for example, a GAA team fielding a Junior line up in an All Ireland SFC game? Or going out with 13 players? What would the sponsors or the families of those whom the trophy for a given competition honours think? Of course, such scenarios would never occur. But it’s more or less comparable to some of what’s gone on in racing.
Sport is cyclical. Right now, in terms of inter county fare at least, the GAA season is wrapping up. For jumps racing though, things are only taking off. The quality of Irish trainers, jockeys and horses is beyond question. Racing has so much to offer, both in terms of sporting entertainment and economically as well. To achieve its potential, though, leadership has to come from the right places.