Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Galway highlights worrying decline

If the Galway Festival that concluded yesterday conclusively confirmed one thing, it is that it really is as much a social phenomenon as a racing one.

Once again, the crowds that thronged Ballybrit and Galway town from Monday onwards had to be seen to be believed. The year-on-year drop in attendance was negligible, and the place just hummed throughout.

Credit to all concerned for that. However, from a purely racing perspective it's hard to deny a mild sense of disappointment on a couple of scores.

Firstly, there were the betting figures, always the most significant barometer of the health of the game. Excluding yesterday, the drop in on-course turnover was over 11pc, with the sharpest daily bookmakers' decline a massive 21pc on Wednesday.

People have less money to spend, but that has been the case for a few years now. When you factor in that on-course betting in this country has fallen by 16pc, 23pc and 10pc respectively for the past three years, the continuing trend does not read well.

Exploring the reasons for that is ultimately a job for another day, but two thoughts readily come to mind -- the flight online, and punter confidence, or lack thereof. Both are contentious issues that are eating away at the greater good of Irish racing.

The second thing that left you feeling a little empty from an industry point of view was the general paucity of competition.

That's not to in any way take from Dermot Weld's outstanding feats but, you have to ask yourself, where was the opposition?

A similar question is prompted by the monopolisation of the domestic Classics by Ballydoyle, and it is no less relevant after the week that was.

With 17 winners, Weld averaged 2.4 winners a day, equalling his previous record of 11 as early as Thursday.

If Weld and his owners choose to save some horses especially for the meeting and endeavour to have many others peak there, that's their prerogative.

But still, maidens in this country are notoriously hard-won events, yet the likes of Font Of Wisdom, Catch The Eye and Comedic Art were winning them at their ease.

When Font Of Wisdom scored by five lengths on Wednesday, there was another 18 lengths back to the third horse. That just doesn't happen anywhere else.

Notwithstanding that Ballybrit isn't every trainer's cup of tea, the inevitable conclusion is that many are simply resigned to the fact that Weld is going to rule supreme so they don't bother going. Either that or the horses simply aren't there.

It's hard to know which is worse.

Highlight of the week

Moon Dice's Guinness Galway Hurdle triumph

Despite setting out on a training career in the depths of Co Longford -- where he is the only survivor of his profession -- when the recession first bit, Paul Flynn has quickly emerged as one of the brightest prospects in the business.

One of a new breed of pragmatists who recognised cross-channel plundering as the way to get noticed, he is someone who is willing to work to make things happen -- as is Tom Doyle, whose career has belatedly flourished.

Both are stand-up guys, so it was a popular result.


of the week

RTE's lack of rigour in big interview

Given the amount of comment The Real Article fiasco had generated, Edward O'Grady was entitled to put his case forward in front of the camera on Thursday, but an opportunity was lost to get some proper answers on the whole debacle.

O'Grady proceeded to lament, amongst other things, "trial by media" and not one of his assertions was challenged in any way, shape or form. Then again, that is essentially what happened in the stewards' room at Tipperary the previous week.

Famous Name

falls short

Dermot Weld's good fortune didn't travel as far as Munich, where Famous Name yesterday failed in his quest to finally win a Group One.

While he tried his heart out up the straight, Pat Smullen's mount could not reel in the eventual winner Durban Thunder. For a fourth time, then, second was the best he could mange at the top level.


"For those not watching, guests at Zara Phillips' wedding included Kieren Fallon (over picture of Tony McCoy) according to BBC News." -- Commentator Richard Hoiles points out the Beeb's inability to recognise their own Sports Personality of the Year. Fallon, incidentally, was on duty at Goodwood at the time.


33 Dermot Weld's percentage haul of the 52 races run at the Galway Festival.

Irish Independent

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