Tuesday 12 December 2017

Ireland pays price for funding over-reliance

Julian Muscat

If the prolonged icy spell wasn't bad enough, recent swingeing cuts to Ireland's prize-money fund illustrated the other side of a coin that highlights the two-way nature of government involvement in sport.

Ireland's racing scene, which thrived in good times, has been obliged to take several steps backwards in tandem with the state of the economy.

Those good times saw Britain cast envious glances across the Irish Sea. However, racing's professionals are now left to reflect that lesser government involvement in Britain, gives the sport a fighting chance within a recessionary climate that barely affects betting turnover -- itself the source of British racing's finances.

This serves to underline just how vital it is for Britain's racing authorities to forge a non-confrontational working relationship with bookmakers in the mutual interest. In this way, racing's future will ultimately rest in its own hands.

Talking of bookmakers, it is surprising that the profession has not set aside funds to ensure that racecourses staging major Saturday cards have a plentiful supply of frost covers. The prospects for Sandown's meeting today, which are tenuous at best, would have been far brighter had frost-sheets been available to cover the entire course.

Their absence was down to Cheltenham, in the same ownership as Sandown, having deployed the covers to safeguard its meeting yesterday. There simply weren't enough to go round.


Now that seems like a short-sighted approach from layers who require a miracle not to be left with low-grade all-weather fare this afternoon -- and the consequent shortfall in betting turnover. Racecourses alone should not bear the financial brunt of covers, which can cost £40,000 per meeting.

As it is, Channel 4 Racing is left with Lingfield's hastily organised card to put before punters on the penultimate day of the Christmas holiday.

While some maintain that any action is better than none, it is pointless trawling through the prospects of bad horses which are unable to race with any consistency. No bets are therefore advised at the Surrey venue today.

Should Sandown receive the green light after a 7.30am inspection, the best bet on the card is Free World in the Blue Square Handicap Chase (2.35). The six-year-old, which put up an excellent effort in defeat at Cheltenham last time, is opposed by horses which have yet to show they can be competitive from their present rating.

Oh Crick, Panjo Bere and Pepsyrock have climbed the handicap steeply for their successful campaigns last term. I'm So Lucky and Freds Benefit are out of sorts, and with Song Of Songs' jumping leaving plenty to be desired, Free World can add a second course-and-distance victory to his repertoire.

With just five runners declared, the Tolworth Hurdle (3.10) has the makings of a slowly run, tactical affair. Nicky Henderson saddles the unbeaten Oscar Whisky and he should know where he stands with Ghizao -- himself beaten by the Henderson-trained General Miller last time.

However, a chance is taken with Salden Licht, which landed a Listed race over nine furlongs in France before his winning hurdles debut last month. His speed could prove too much for his store-bred opponents.

By far the most attractive proposition on a trappy all-weather card at Southwell today is Prohibition in the Golf Club Handicap (12.55). This one returned after a 13-month absence at Wolverhampton last month, when he pulled fiercely throughout the nine-furlong journey, while Jamie Spencer attempted to settle him in rear.

Those tactics were governed by concerns over Prohibition lasting out the trip. And while they plainly backfired, the drop back to seven furlongs here should enable him to be ridden more positively. There should be more to come from this lightly raced four-year-old.

Irish Independent

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