As someone that has been involved in the racing scene for a number of years – albeit in a loose, removed way – this corner can attest that there’s no greater thrill in the sport than to see a horse one is in the least bit connected to going to war. Disappointments will of course outnumber the good days, but when the latter do come, they’re unforgettable.
Beware, there’s an old chestnut about to fall here. The contribution made by and importance of the Coolmore operation and some of the leading Arab owners to racing – both as a sport and an industry – is undeniable. However, such is the stranglehold Magnier et al command, it’s hard not to feel affairs on the level are at least a tad elitist.
Thus, National Hunt has always been favourite the code in this seat. There are other reasons, too, but the main one is that the ordinary man has more of a chance in the jumps sphere. Or at least that’s how it used to be. Recently, the O’Briens inching back towards the NH scene – not to mention the dominance already enjoyed by Willie Mullins – was covered here extensively.
Another bugbear has come back since. That of some of the bigger owners on that circuit snapping up steeds from individual owners or syndicates thereof. Again, the vital input of owners such as Gigginstown House Stud, JP McManus and – to a lesser extent – Barry Connell would be openly acknowledged.
If there’s one downside to two of those three’s involvement, it’s the manner in which they seem to snap up the most promising horses from ordinary owners. Right, so the outgoing owners have to agree to sell and stand to make a big windfall. Very few people get into racing, though – and particularly national hunt – as a means of making money. Besides, no money could replace the thrill of seeing something run in your colours.
Already this season, JP has annexed the originally locally owned Jezki – among others – and Connell acquired Golantilla after that one sluiced up in a bumper. Selling a horse after winning a bumper is one thing, buyers coming looking outside of that – as with Jezki and more recently when Connell plunged for Our Conor after the Dessie Hughes charge won the Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham – is entirely another.
Speaking from the heart, how anyone could let a horse of such quality go is beyond me, but that’s a story for another day. Thankfully, the most recent Cheltenham Festival – the greatest renewal for the Irish ever – proved that, in some cases at least, the fairytale can still come true for the not necessarily super wealthy. And that applies in terms of owners, trainers and jockeys.
Naturally, the likes of Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson were still major players but there were other stories too. Like the one of – at that stage – Our Conor or Salsify or Big Shu, who won at the Festival for the Sweeney family from west Cork for the third consecutive year. It wouldn’t have been a major racing event without there being plenty of local connections to the record haul of fourteen winners. Of the thirteen the ‘home’ team did amass, Barry Geraghty notched some of them courtesy of Simonsig, Sprinter Sacre and Bob’s Worth, but the local contributions went even deeper than that. Especially in terms of the latter.
With his jockey having sold him to Henderson, Bob went on to prove his worth to Barry yet again when staying on valiantly to collect the greatest prize of them all, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In so doing denying the hope of many Irish punters – including this one – Sir Des Champs. While also maintaining his own remarkable unbeaten record at the Festival.
That was only a fraction of the local success story though. There was Paul Carberry scoring aboard the rejuvenated Solwhit for Charles Byrnes, as already stated, Geraghty’s successes for Henderson, but, the greatest local story of all on this occasion fell to Moynalvey’s Tony Martin who notched his first couple of winners at the track for quite a few years courtesy of the ultra impressive pair, Beneficient – possibly the most under-rated horse in training – and Ted Veale.
Even that doesn’t document the entirety of the local successes at Prestbury Park. Indeed, perhaps the win of Gordon Elliott’s Flaxen Flare was one of the most impressive of the week. Boasting what would turn out to be very impressive form behind Our Conor, Mrs Pat Sloan’s gelding ran away with the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle under Davy Condon.
The almost surreal feeling that accompanies the realisation that the Festival is over for another year never gets any easier to adjust to. It’s sated by the fact that the biggest festivals this country has to offer, Fairyhouse and Punchestown, – not to mention Aintree – are just around the corner.
Here’s hoping – and expecting – there are more local successes to write about in the very near future!