Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Humiliated hosts must ask serious questions

Road To Respect’s Cheltenham victory was also a winner for handicapper. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Road To Respect’s Cheltenham victory was also a winner for handicapper. Photo by Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Johnny Ward

Phil Smith pulled out a blinder in the heat of the controversy of his handicapping of Irish horses.

Asked for a Cheltenham nap, the British handicapper said: "Ireland to have more winners than Britain" - at a time when one could back the visitors at 9/2 for the 'Betbright Cup'.

It may have been a bit of mischief but Smith, more of a dogmatic headmaster, does not appear to be a mischievous man. He opposed a long-odds-on jolly and could have collected soon after halfway.

We get carried away - we have before and will again, part of human frailty - but who saw the 19-9 rout coming?

With under a third of the runners, we accounted for more than two-thirds of the winners.

A cursory analysis of the owners of Irish-trained horses is prudent - eight of the Irish winners are not Irish-owned.

Sizing John, Gold Cup winner, and Supasundae run for Yorkshireman Alan Potts. Graham Wylie, a Geordie of Scottish parents, was responsible for both Yorkhill and Nicholls Canyon. Rich Ricci, an American, has all his horses in Ireland, including Let's Dance.

Rock The World runs in the colours of Englishman Michael Buckley. Penhill's owner, Tony Bloom, owns his local football club - Brighton and Hove Albion. Special Tiara is the property of Sally Rowley-Williams, a New Yorker.

What was little-mentioned throughout Cheltenham week is that, unlike Irish trainers, the British cannot rely on their government putting up half of the prize-money in racing.

However, Irish racing is weaning itself from this reliance, according to Horse Racing Ireland CEO Brian Kavanagh.

Taxation

"The taxation of online betting raised an extra €20m for the Exchequer last year, the new legislation having been introduced in autumn 2015.

"This has already significantly reduced the Government top-up to the Horse and Greyhound Racing Fund," he said.

"We believe it can be eliminated within three years while providing the increased funding necessary to further develop the industry in Ireland.

"Prize-money is a key issue for HRI... across the board as it is the incentive for owners to invest and have horses in training in Ireland.

"We intend to further increase our prize-money. When comparing our prize-money with other countries, you must look not just at the headline figures but the net return to owners, taking account of the number of horses in training."

The shift in the past decade or so is down to the increasing power of Gigginstown, among other things; like Rich Ricci, the O'Leary brothers keep their horses in Ireland.

Moreover, point-to-point racing in Britain is an irrelevance; in Ireland it is now common for horses to be sold for €300,000 or more after merely winning a maiden between the flags.

Whereas these would be snapped up in the past by British owners, or Irish owners with horses in Britain, they are now far more likely to stay in Ireland.

It really is all about prize-money - stupid - and after all the furore about Smith, the handicap score was 7-3 to Ireland, which defies logic.

Unless British racing sorts out its derisory prize-money (they ran a Grade One this season with a winner's pot of £25,748), it may be a long time before Ireland is odds-against, not to mind the 9/2 Smith could have backed last week.

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