Stranglehold of power will only be broken by the plucky

Aristocracies exist everywhere in life. Whilst at pains not to go into extensive detail, it’s clear the political one in this country was recently seriously jolted. In agriculture, larger scale producers are still in a better position than their more modest counterparts. Perhaps, however, such circumstances prevail more emphatically in sport than elsewhere.

Thus, breakthroughs fashioned by a handful of Ulster counties and – maybe more so – victories by the footballers of Clare and Leitrim and the hurlers from the Banner County and – to a lesser extent – Wexford were a serious development and an – albeit short-lived – disturbance of the established order.

Nowhere is the inner sanctum more difficult to penetrate than in top level flat racing. Somewhat regrettably, the spectre of a few monetarily well endowed owners dominating matters has now begun to hover over National Hunt racing as well as owners such as JP McManus, Gigginstown, Rich Ricci and Barry Connell wield ever more influence.

These people admittedly generate considerable employment because of their involvement in the sport. It’s beyond dispute, however, that the burgeoning operations of those at the top end of things marginalise the opportunity for those of more mundane means to capture a bit of the spotlight and all that goes with it.

The situation over jumps pales, though, in comparison to the impenetrable nature of flat racing. Where the likes of Coolmore, several different Arabian entities and – to a perhaps less obvious extent – Moyglare jostle amongst themselves for most of the blue riband prizes on offer around the world.

Richy Rich

In either sphere, mind you, only those plucky enough to take a chance stand any hope of breaking the stranglehold of power. The unique character that is Mick Winters is probably the most shining Irish example at present. He has benefitted, of course, from having two of the most versatile animals in training – Rebel Fitz and Missunited – at his disposal.

Still, having talent on hand is one thing, management thereof often entirely another. Such stories of less prominent people achieving greatness are quite common in Ireland thanks to the exploits of trainers like Winters and Tom Foley and the Bowe family. Owner Anthony Knott was a similar story in England when Hunt Ball was his.

Elsewhere in the world, though, you suspect such occurrences are particularly rare. So, as much as what Winters et al have achieved here has been the decidedly refreshing, there was something equally pleasantly attractive to the tale surrounding the efforts of those associated with California Chrome trying to land the American triple crown recently.

That those attempts ultimately came up short scarcely matters. Seeing a horse by a sire and out of a dam that cost a mere $8,000 and $5,000 and trained by a man who sent out the winner of the race in question decades ago and hadn’t been back in the intervening years restores faith that a semblance of romance still encapsulates sport, if nothing else. Moreover, it was a glint of silver removed from the cloud that perennially envelopes American racing.

It’s only rarely, however, that high end business – sporting or otherwise – accommodates such possibilities. Which means that most observers would in a blasé manner almost shrug shoulders at the sight of Aidan O’Brien bagging another Epsom Derby courtesy of the precocious colt, Australia.

Flippancy derived from the familiarity of such utterances as “The best I’ve ever trained” were in this case misguided. For one thing, Australia’s stellar pedigree (by Galileo out of Ouija Board) proclaimed him as being of even greater standing than some of his illustrious predecessors. Besides that, though this would – in most years – seem an inherently curious statement, in 2014 it is not stretching reality to assert that the Ballydoyle team needed the success after what’s been a fairly trying period.

Chastening, perhaps, for Joseph O’Brien even more so than his father. Several celebrated luminaries have passed through the Coolmore operation and to have assumed the leading role and performed with such distinction bestows enormous credit upon the jockey. Like pay-as-you-go phones, however, credit doesn’t be long evaporating in racing.

Microscopic analysis is now a fundamental part of the sporting world. Possibly in no other arena is the scrutiny as intense as that which is zeroed in on the O’Brien camp. And, with several high profile setbacks having befallen the father and son team in recent times, the questioning had reached its most feverish for a long time.

Now, a coldly factual view of things would suggest that the quality of his equine accomplice reduced the need for the 21-year-old to demonstrate the full range of his expertise. This corner would in fact contend the contrary. That he managed to circumvent all the associated pressure – more palpable, maybe after Camelot’s conquering previously – is another ringing endorsement of the young man.

Apart from anything else, there’s always something special about father and son teaming up for joy. Many more such occasions probably await.


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