Wednesday 24 January 2018

Stakes are high in glamour-free zone

Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Strictly speaking, point-to-pointing is an amateur sport, held on makeshift racecourses, organised by volunteers. Nonetheless, it is a massive industry.

The best produce can still command six-figure sums, so the stakes are high. For a jockey, that means every man for himself.

It is race-riding in its purest form, pared down to the essentials. No handicapping, no running rails, no holds barred. Stewards are local volunteers, and inquiries are rare, with video replays another non-runner.

That's what every rider signs up for, and it's also why the circuit produces top-class jockeys. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

Of course, with most of the horses just greenhorn novices, the danger element increases. If the man in front closes a gap approaching a fence or cuts you up rounding a bale, your partner may not have the experience to get you out of a fix.

And 'pointing' is a glamour-free zone. Benches in the changing-room are square bales of straw, and there are no valets. You sort your own kit, you shower at home.

That all adds to the tension, which is already high on natural adrenalin, as up to 40 competitors cram into a confined space. With official regulation loose, disputes are frequent, and tend to be resolved in-house.

If all that sounds a bit old school, it is, but safety protocol is never compromised. Damian Murphy, the senior statesman between the flags, explains: "Racing is the most dangerous sport in the world. It's the only sport where two ambulances follow you round at all times, and we can't compete with just one.

"Point-to-pointing may be an amateur discipline, but there are no corners cut on that score.

"What happened to Jack (Tyner) was terrible, but nothing could have been done about it.

"People are killed in car crashes every day of the week, and look at the people killed in the plane crash in Cork, or the poor woman that the tree fell on in Dublin.

"Getting to the races might be more dangerous than riding in them, and we all love what we do."

Irish Independent

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