Things We Learned » Finding funding

Finding funding

There were many things to take out of Minister Simon Coveney’s speech at the HRI Awards lunch on Monday, but one of the main bombshells was that any extra revenue that is garnered through the new betting tax legislation (still waiting) will not be ring-fenced for racing.

Actually, it wasn’t a bombshell at all. In reality, we have known this for a while now, but it had never before been stated so publicly, so authoritatively or so unequivocally. “Racing should be warned that it will not be automatically entitled to it.”

It was a tenuous link anyway. It is very easy to argue that Irish racing has little entitlement to tax revenue generated from betting on football or golf or British racing. It is estimated that, at most, 15% of all betting by Irish people is on Irish racing. Perhaps now we can finally move away from the misguided positioning of the new betting tax legislation as racing’s panacea.

The Minister did say that the generation of extra tax revenue by the new betting tax legislation – and we still don’t know how much it will generate or how it will work or, indeed, if it will work – will make his job easier when he goes cap-in-hand (he said cap-in-hand) in search of government funding for the industry, but that is, at best, as temporary a notion as one government’s term in office. It is as far removed from the goal of putting the funding of Irish racing on a sound financial long-term footing as you are from the top of the board when you start the game of Snakes and Ladders.

Perhaps it is an unrealistic goal. Perhaps racing will always have to rely on the ability of successive governments to see the value of horse racing to Ireland both as an industry and as a sport. Or perhaps there is a need for some lateral thinking now regarding other methods of potential funding that involves media rights and other as yet largely unexplored avenues.

Good Days

Sunday was a good day for Henry de Bromhead, with Starkie winning his maiden hurdle at Cork on his second attempt, and Two Scoops landing the listed novices’ hurdle at Fairyhouse (his record over hurdles is now 22121). However, Days Hotel’s win in the Grade 2 Hilly Way Chase at Cork had to have been the highlight of the day for the Waterford trainer.

A decent novice hurdler, the Oscar gelding looked set to take a high rank among last season’s novice chasers when he won his beginners’ chase last October and followed up by beating subsequent Grade 1 winner Lucky William in the Craddockstown Chase at Punchestown last November. However, injury kept him off the track for over a year until last Sunday.

It was a fine training performance by de Bromhead to get Days Ahead back to win the Hilly Way after more than a year off the track, and it was an impressive performance from the seven-year-old. It took him a couple of fences to find his rhythm, and he was fairly wide the whole way, yet he still had enough in reserve to come away from the talented pair Realt Dubh and Blazing Tempo from the second last fence.

It may be that he needs soft ground to be at his best, and it may be that he needs to go right-handed (he has never raced left-handed under Rules) but, when he has his conditions, he is very good.

National fences

Feedback on the modified Grand National fences from last Saturday’s Becher Chase meeting at Aintree was almost universally positive. Jockeys reported that the fences rode well and, while five fallers in the two races over the big fences was one more than on the same day last year, it was seven fewer than in 2007, and all horses and riders came back largely unscathed. That’s all good news.

The landing sides of several fences have been levelled off, and the hard timber cores of four of the fences have been replaced with a softer, synthetic substance, all of which should make the fences easier to jump, which should, you would have thought, reduce the number of fallers and therefore the possibility of injury and equine fatality. However, there may be a need to think again.

We still don’t know whether or not it is a step in the right direction in terms of making the Grand National safer, which is, after all, the object of the entire exercise. Conditions on Becher Chase day are very different to conditions on Grand National day. The ground is usually much softer for the Becher Chase in winter than it is for the Grand National in the spring (soft or heavy as opposed to good or good to soft), the pace is generally slower (17secs/furlongs over three and a quarter miles as opposed to 15secs/furlong over four and a half miles), and the field is usually smaller (about 15 or 16 runners as opposed to 39 or 40). Also, the Becher Chase, good race though it is, doesn’t instill the same excitement or freneticism in horses or riders as the most famous horse race in the world does.

Making the fences easier encourages speed, and some hugely respected professionals who are perennial participants in the Grand National maintain that it is this speed that is the most dangerous element in the race. In fact, making the fences easier flies directly in the face of some highly respected opinion which maintains that, actually, by making the fences bigger and more difficult to jump, you would reduce the speed of the race, thereby lowering the level of danger that horse and rider would face.

Of course, it wouldn’t have looked good if they had made the fences bigger in the wake of two equine fatalities in last year’s Grand National. That course of action would have necessitated lots of explaining. Sometimes aesthetics seem to take precedence over actuality.

Tale of two stars

It was a week of two stars, one rising, one caught in the eye of an unfortunate storm.

The why-fors and where-tos of Kauto Star’s move from Ditcheat to Dressage have been well played out at this stage, some of it on the front page of the Racing Post for two days running. It is a shame that the relationship between the owner and the trainer of one of the greatest steeplechasers of all time should break down like this, and that this episode will be one of the chapters in the remarkable Kauto Star story.

You hope that most of the Flemenstar story still has to be written, but Peter Casey’s horse was fantastic in the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown on Sunday, probably better than we had ever seen him before. It was difficult to fault his performance, he jumped superbly, he travelled easily, he picked up well at the top of the home straight and he kept on admirably to beat Sir Des Champs (along with Flemenstar himself, one of the most exciting staying chasers in training) and Rubi Light (who has proven himself to be top class in Sunday’s conditions) in a really good time.

As well as that, the son of Flemensfirth settled nicely in front for Andrew Lynch, and he ran all the way through the line. Nobody knows for sure whether or not he will stay three miles or three and a quarter miles, but – a full-brother to Barafundle, a three-mile hurdler, from the family of the top class staying chaser and Welsh National winner Carvill’s Hill – this performance gives him a real chance of so doing.


Interesting that, in a survey carried out by David Priest, a psychology researcher at the University of East Anglia, into approval ratings of Channel 4 presenters, of the top five presenters, according to the survey, four – John Francome, Alastair Down, Mike Cattermole and Derek Thompson – will not be employed by Channel 4 from 1st January. Only Simon Holt of the top five survives.

© The Irish Field, 15th December 2012