The tragic and untimely passing of young Jack De Bromhead last autumn shook the nation and well beyond to the core. No matter who you are, or whether you have any knowledge of or interest in racing, the thought of a kid dying – in any circumstances but especially doing something he knew and loved – is almost impossible to compute. Even as unrelated onlookers, never mind those who knew and loved the aspiring teenage jockey.
There’s something about the Irish psyche – it may well be the same the world over but it feels intrinsically Irish – that when an individual, family or indeed community are blindsided by strife, instinct takes over and assistance is hurriedly dispatched in the direction of those in need.
Recently, occasion arose to contemplate that very scenario against how insular the horse racing can be in some ways in ‘normal’ times, it presents quite the conundrum.
Anybody who has been perusing my output for long enough will know the big part of my life racing became a good few years ago. But here’s the thing, no matter how much you might think you’re on or even near the inside of the racing scene, a reminder to the contrary is never far away.
In some cases, the propensity for racing to take on the closed-shop mantra is wholly understandable when placed against the reality of major events in the sport, such as the Aintree Grand National and the Epsom Derby being disrupted by anarchists masquerading as animal rights activists.
However, in some ways, the prevailing demeanour in racing can be particularly off-putting. It’s primarily more prevalent in Flat racing but it’s starting to permeate National Hunt racing too. Which was always the bedrock of the ‘ordinary’ racing enthusiast.
Elitism, that is. Now that the Flat is as such is more or less taken as read at this stage. Simply as the ‘ordinary’ operator cannot be expected to compete with the likes of Coolmore and several Arab entities.
Regrettably and worryingly, mind you, in the last, say, decade, there has been an inexorable feeling that jump racing was headed in the same direction.
Perhaps they mightn’t have had the Arab input, but, a small, elite cohort of owners have been exerting an ever-growing influence on where the big bucks – in terms of prize money – go.
People such as John P. McManus, Michael O’Leary – through his Gigginstown House Stud operation – Rich Ricci, Barry Connell, Cheveley Park Stud, Noel and Valerie Moran’s Bective Stud and Sean Mulryan.
I’d refrain from being overly critical of them, though, out of cognisance of the fiscal boon they are to local and national economies wherever they may be.
But here’s the thing, when I was becoming properly attuned to horse racing – circa 1993/’94 and the protracted battle between Richard Dunwoody and Adrian Maguire for the British Jockeys Championship – jump racing over there wrapped up over there after the Whitbred (as it was then) Gold Cup meeting in Sandown. It was a similar situation with the Punchestown Festival here.
Then, when summer jumping was introduced on both sides of the Irish Sea, the idea was to give the ‘ordinary’ folk a chance.
The train of thought presumably harking back to another era when, as my father used to put it, the likes of Dr (Vincent) O’Brien or Paddy Prendergast tended to refrain from sending runners to the country tracks.
Now though, due to a combination of improved facilities, prize money and competition, nowhere is off limits. Which brings us to what prompted what you are reading.
A bumper in Ballinrobe one evening last week. The Co Mayo track have instigated some great improvements to their venue in recent times. Helped in no small way by McHale Farm Machinery and (former Mayo footballer Donie) Vaughan’s Shoe Shop as resident sponsors.
So it is only right that the best in the business send their steeds into the West. The only drawback to that eventuality, mind you, is a situation like that which unfolded in the land of green and red last midweek.
To have JP (McManus), Coolmore and Rich Ricci owning a horse in partnership would be akin to having Sean Boylan, Mick O’Dwyer and the late Kevin Heffernan looking after your club team.
As if that wouldn’t be daunting enough, take a look at Mystical Power’s ‘page’ (breeding), by super-sire Galileo (the youngster’s daddy) out of Annie Power – his mammy! As a point of reference, to continue the GAA comparison, that’s akin to being a direct blood descendant of David Clifford or Emma Duggan!
Loftier heights than those occupied by us mere mortals. Oh it’s the world of the elites alright, we just live in it!