Wednesday 7 December 2016

Monday Outlook: Dermot Weld outplayed but not outscored

Willie Mullins denied leading trainer award in Galway by rules quirk

Published 03/08/2015 | 02:30

Slygufftou and Luke Dempsey jumping their way to victory in yesterday’s Galway Shopping Centre Handicap Hurdle
Slygufftou and Luke Dempsey jumping their way to victory in yesterday’s Galway Shopping Centre Handicap Hurdle
Trainer Willie Mullins after watching his horse Laviniad and jockey Declan McDonogh win the Arthur Guinness European Breeders Fund Corrib Fillies Stakes

A few cynical guffaws echoed around the press room in Galway last Wednesday morning when it emerged that the leading trainer's award would be decided by a points system rather than winners.

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With Dermot Weld struggling for his usual momentum, the joke went that new criteria had been dreamt up overnight. At the time, Weld had trained two winners, as had Willie Mullins and Sheila Lavery. Under the points structure, however, Weld had a clear lead, with five points on offer for a winner, three for a second and one for a third.

Conspiracy theorists surmised that a stroke had been pulled to ensure that the reign of the baron of Ballybrit would not be conceded. It all made for a good laugh, but, as John Moloney - the conspiracists' figurative king - pointed out, the truth was far less clandestine and consisted of no such subterfuge.

A points system has long been in place, but, because Weld was always so far clear, it quickly became redundant. It never merited any attention so it never gained legs.

This week, though, it threw up a daft anomaly by any normal measure of what constitutes the leading trainer at any of these major festivals; in a word, winners.

The inconsistency was finally crystallised yesterday evening. Mullins (below) saddled eight winners, yet Weld was deemed leading trainer by a point, despite his five winners also amounting to one less than Tony Martin.

Without putting too fine a point on what is essentially a trivial sub-plot, that is pretty farcical. Weld mightn't have been outscored, but he was comprehensively outplayed.

Trainers, by their nature, are competitive, and a few choice words filled the air in the winner's circle on Thursday when one of those in contention was informed of the lay of the land. In the end, for a 29th time in 30 years, Weld held sway.

Of course, he is to be commended for his record, but one of Michael Moloney's first tasks as his father's successor as general manager might be to consider a more meritorious and less contentious structure. That apart, John Moloney could hardly have hoped for a better send-off after 26 years at the helm.

He leaves behind a vibrant festival that has enhanced its place as an authentic Irish institution on his watch. The Galway Races haven't merely survived the whims of fashion, they have thrived, to the point that the track is one of the most modern and forward-thinking venues here or anywhere else.

This week, there was an admirable commitment - led by Clerk of the Course Lorcan Wyer - to publish race distances to the nearest yard. Not everyone will appreciate whether a race is a mile or a mile and 73 yards, but the attitude that recently led Wyer and the Galway officials to publish accurately measured, exact race distances must be commended.

In the information age it makes sense that this sort of detail is put out there. Moloney has been the driving force behind the track's transformation, and his son's mission statement should simply be to foster that mindset into the future.

Total primary attendance rose for a second year - 140,114 up from 139,037 - and, when the estimate for non-paying locals that populate the in-field by dint of a historical arrangement is included, the likelihood is that the 150,000 mark will be breached for a first time since 2011. No mean feat.

Out on the track, Martin belatedly got going from Thursday, his lot spearheaded by Quick Jack's smooth triumph in a Galway Hurdle that the Co Meath handler dominated. It was the third year in a row that he emerged second best in terms of winners.

Martin has made an art form of mastering the handicap system, a point emphasised by Thomas Edison's 2014 success in the Hurdle.

However, with Quick Jack, it has been more a case of what you see is what you get, and his campaigning of a horse that has consistently performed to a high level has been exquisite.

As Martin did in the Hurdle, Henry de Bromhead saddled the first and third home in the Plate, with Shanahan's Turn an up-to-scratch winner of a slightly less heady edition of the prestigious chase. The Co Waterford handler departed with four wins, likewise Jessica Harrington. Crucially, Mullins, Martin, De Bromhead and Harrington all secured at least one feature each. Weld's annual domination has been a testament to his genius, but it has also been partly attributable to others' indifference to Galway.

Given the standard and competitive nature of last week's racing, as well as that of 2013 and 2014, that is clearly no longer the case. The festival is all the better for that.

Legatissimo makes amends in Nassau

Legatissimo shrugged off two narrow defeats to stamp her authority all over the Nassau Stakes at Goodwood on Saturday.

In different circumstances, David Wachman's 1,000 Guineas heroine might have won two Classics and four Group Ones. As a £367,500 daughter of Danehill Dancer, she is entitled to be good, but the manner of her triumph in Goodwood's 10-furlong Group One confirmed that she really is an extremely classy individual.

Legatissimo burst clear on Saturday to eventually score by a couple of lengths from Aidan O'Brien's improving Wedding Vow. As ever, Wayne Lordan was excellent up top, again displaying the trait that the very best jockeys habitually exhibit when opportunities present themselves on the big stage - keeping it simple.

It is often the hardest thing to do when the levels of expectation and scrutiny are greatest, but Lordan invariably takes his chances. Wachman and Lordan were also among the winners at Galway, the highlight of which was Hint Of A Tint's success in the Topaz Mile. Lordan is from Upton in Co Cork, and, in stark contrast to what transpired in Thurles last weekend, it proved to be a lucrative week for natives of the Rebel County.

As well as Lordan, Youghal's Denis O'Regan and Curraglass's Jonathan Burke were understatedly brilliant in conquering the Hurdle and Plate, with Connor King and Finny Maguire also confirming their precocious talents with a pair of winners each. Colm O'Donoghue and Adrian Heskin were other Cork men to grace the winner's circle.

Fran Berry was crowned the leading Flat rider with four Flat wins and his fellow Kildare man Ruby Walsh claimed the jumps title with three victories (all for Mullins). Curiously, no mention of a points system for the jockeys!

Online bookies now to be taxed

On Saturday, the business of online bookmakers and exchanges contributing to the exchequer began.

It has been a slow process, but the extension of bookies' 1pc tax to online operators and a 15pc rate on commission for exchanges represents welcome progress in the quest to make up the shortfall in Revenue's takings from the industry since the onset of online gambling.

It won't be a panacea for the racing industry as it won't be ring-fenced. Nonetheless, an estimated €25m in revenue will help when Horse Racing Ireland are sat at the table negotiating how much the Government will extend to the industry when the budget comes around, notwithstanding that racing has no divine right to the money over any other sport.

Having not acquired a licence on time, one firm has already ceased to take bets from Irish-based customers. Of course, Betfair's offer of a multi-million euro contribution directly to HRI continues to be spurned, somewhat inexplicably.

New challenges ahead for Hughes

There was no farewell winner for Richard Hughes on Saturday.

The outgoing three-time champion Flat jockey is now ploughing ahead with a trainer career. The Kildare native's nascent ideas and expansive facilities have received much attention, and distinguished figures have declared that he will be a success in his new vocation.

Hopefully he will be, but, as his late, great father Dessie would doubtless tell him, how he fares at the job will inevitably come down to many different, intangible factors. Being an intelligent, articulate successful former jockey with plush facilities guarantees nothing.

Finding the right horses, being able to train them and keep frustrated owners happy are what matter. Hughes will have to establish a whole new skill set.

Tweet of the weekend

Ted Walsh (@walsh_ted)

Eh how did Willie Mullins not win the leading trainer at Galway competition?

Ted Walsh junior asks the question that was on most people's lips in Ballybrit yesterday.

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