Sport Horse Racing

Friday 23 February 2018

HRI need to look at spreading the wealth

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

With an enhanced stream of media rights income compensating for the 2pc cut to Horse Racing Ireland's annual grant that was announced last week, the subsequent decision to leave prize money levels unchanged for 2012 was well received.

Willie Mullins was among those to voice his approval. For years our generous pots have been cited as the main incentive for an owner to justify the expense and risk involved with putting a horse into training, and Mullins stressed how the trickle-down effect helps to stabilise the future of up to 17,000 jobs within the industry.

While accepting that point unreservedly, it's also worth asking if at some stage maybe the distribution of wealth should be reviewed. At Navan yesterday, there were two graded races worth close to €110,000, yet just four horses lined up in each.

Incidentally, the increasingly dominant Mullins won both, with 'easily' and 'comfortably' the adjectives used to describe the victories in the races' analyses.

That our champion trainer, one of the game's most intelligent and eloquent thinkers, has a vested interest in prize money levels doesn't necessarily undermine his views on the matter, but he isn't going to go around calling for them to be reduced either.

Neither am I, but with three of the seven Grade Ones run in Ireland this term having attracted four runners each and the average field size 5.4, the standard of our top-level races is distinctly iffy. Clearly, big pots aren't the one-stop solution to the sourcing and retention of high-class horses.

In the overall scheme of things, small-field, uncompetitive graded races won't get paying customers in the gates, and they are practically irrelevant from a betting point of view. Sure, there is currently no direct relation between the money wagered on Irish racing and its funding via central government, but that might not always be so.

Either way, it's in everyone's interests to have meaningful competition. Also, the game's reputation should be robust, and in that context the ongoing funding difficulties experienced by the Turf Club's integrity department needs addressing.

It recently came to light that stewards' duties at Thurles are being compromised by the lack of a camera hoist to enable officials to identify any unscrupulous activity that might be going on behind the trees.

Turf Club chief executive Denis Egan admitted: "Because of the cutbacks the hoist hasn't been there for almost a year and the camera is now positioned on top of a van, which is not good for officials."

Blazing ups the tempo

for Mullins and Townend

Paul Townend wasted little time getting back among the winners after his return from two weeks off with a fractured collarbone when the Willie Mullins-trained Blazing Tempo sluiced up for him on his first ride at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

His Galway Plate-winning partner was running over flights for a first time for Mullins, and won in the manner that a 1/2 shot should.

A consequent eight-pound hike sees her hurdle rating rise to 131, which is still 21lbs below her chasing mark.

She holds an entry in another very winnable race at Downpatrick on Wednesday, but you'd wonder if the wily Mullins hasn't got a valuable little handicap hurdle in mind for her somewhere.

Training performance

of the weekend

Tony Mullins hadn't had a jumps winner since the Galway Festival, but he produced Battling Boru in fine shape to score on its first run since finishing down the field at the same meeting at Navan yesterday.

In a handicap hurdle that saw the third home Down Under sent off at crazy odds of 8/11, Mullins' five-year-old battled through the heavy ground to score for an equally sharp-looking Bryan Cooper, who returned from a month on the sidelines with a broken wrist 24 hours earlier.

Number of the week

5 The number of successive winners Willie Mullins saddled between Thursday and Sunday. His double at Navan yesterday followed another brace at Fairyhouse on Saturday, while he also took the closing bumper at Gowran Park on Thursday.

Ride of the weekend

Ruby Walsh was at his imperious best on The Minack at Ascot on Saturday. Having elected to race wide and sit in patiently, he coaxed a massive leap out of the seven-year-old at the last downhill fence, before then switching between horses when the race began in earnest.

On a good day for Walsh and Paul Nicholls, the triumph was sandwiched between the former champion jockey's less taxing steers on Aerial and Big Buck's.

Tweet of the week

"@ninacarberry @gelliott_racing All you can do is pray they come back and he did this time, it's horrible riding a fav in a race like that." -- Top point-to-point rider Jamie Codd offers Nina Carberry and Gordon Elliott some reassurance after the odds-on Don Cossack just overhauled the runaway leader Rory O'Moore in the shadow of the post at Navan yesterday.

Irish Independent

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