Seeing young people now switching options subjects in secondary school or – more pointedly – switching courses at the next level up brings back memories. It’s probable that we all had that one subject in school that almost instantly prompted regret at its very uptake.
Science was my nemesis. Whether that was down to the individual imparting the knowledge is thought provoking but scarcely matters. The fact is, the wheelchair used to mysteriously attain punctures on Friday mornings (double science day) more than any other occasion.
Well, there was one other occasion when mechanical mishaps were commonplace – Cheltenham week! It got to the stage where the teachers didn’t even ask when I failed to appear after lunch – or usually at all – during the second week of March. The Morning Line had to be taken in too, you see.
Now, apart from the multiply recalled occasions concerning Dawn Run and Cool Ground, the other formative Festival recollection centres on the victory of Danoli in what was then the Sun Alliance Novice Hurdle. The horse that became the ‘Peoples Champion’ was owned by the famed bone setter Dan O’Neill of Myshal, Co Carlow and trained by Tom Foley.
If ever a moniker was fitting it was thus. Simply because seeing O’Neill and Foley experience glory on the sport’s biggest stage re-enforced what was always the beauty of the thing. Namely, that ordinary people were on level weights with those of greater means and could just as easily generate momentous moments.
Sadly, such opportunities are now dissipating. As an ever tightening circle wield a grip on proceedings similar to that enjoyed by a lucky few on the Flat. A stark illustration of a two tier system. And, as detrimental as it undoubtedly is to the fortitude of the racing and wider bloodstock industry, what’s even more galling is the frivolous nature in which some of the privileged carry themselves.
Logic often has no place in a fickle world. For it’s difficult to discern why an operation with the clout and wherewithal of Gigginstown House Stud would, seemingly, remove themselves from a position to have their horses trained by he who currently must rank as the best exponent of his craft there is.
Inclination is in this case – if sound bites emanating are credible – to side with Willie Mullins. All too well are the costs of keeping a horse in training recognised. However, few, in any, would be better placed to absorb same than those behind the maroon and white silks. Furthermore, in an environment where we are being told economic conditions are improving, Mullins can hardly be criticised for seeking to better his own circumstances. Seemingly for the first time in five years.
Both entities are undoubtedly endowed to circumnavigate this hole in the road. It should be remembered also that those entangled in this spat are far from the only ones to re-locate horses, lately or in the past. Accordingly, while in all cases there is of course sympathy for those who have had their numbers reduced, it also, of course, presents opportunities for handlers who have had their artillery increased. With that in mind, one of the most heart warming stories to adorn racing in the recent past was the upturn in fortunes which befell Michael Morris towards the end of last season.
‘Mouse’ has long been one of the pillars of the Irish jumps scene, but, even allowing for that, there was a great degree of poignancy in the Fethard man accumulating three Nationals (a ludicrous amount of staying handicap chases now get that title) after the untimely passing of his son.
He had, of course, been given horses by Ann and Alan Potts before the total cessation of their relationship with Henry De Bromhead. It’s also the case the Morris was an integral part of the Gigginstown operation from the get go, though thanks to both sets of owners his numbers are likely to swell considerably.
Jim Dreaper has also been represented in the green and yellow jacket with red cap for quite a few years. Considerable success was visited upon the proprietors of the garments courtesy of Goonyella, Sizing Coal, Cavite Beta, Venetian De Mai and others. Opportunities to add to those successes are bound to increase with a considerable number of steeds now calling Greenogue their now home.
Gordon Elliott, like ‘Mouse’, has always been an intrinsic part of the Gigginstown operation. The Longwood handler has delivered considerable success – most notably with Don Cossack. Ditto Noel Meade and Road To Riches. Henry De Bromhead’s is a newer association with the outfit, he will be hoping to bolster an already impressive strike rate.
In the case of Joseph O’Brien with Gigginstown and Jessica Harrington and – most intriguingly – Colin Tizzard with Mr and Mrs Potts, possibly incalculable new opportunities await. However, in the current prevailing climate, nobody will be taking anything for granted