Donn's Articles » Alternative awards

Alternative awards

You know that the year is drawing to a close when the ballot paper for Horse Racing Ireland’s annual awards lands on your door mat.

Most of the usual personalities are included in the list of nominees, rocks of Irish racing like Willie Mullins and Dermot Weld and Aidan O’Brien and Derek O’Connor, the point-to-point perennial, along with a couple of fresh faces, like Bryan Cooper and Tom Doyle and Colm O’Donoghue. Future rocks.

An opening price of 1/16 about Hurricane Fly (voting has closed, so we can talk about it without fear of influence – it’s like the general election moratorium in reverse) for the Horse of the Year accolade suggests that the Champion Hurdler only has to show up to collect the prize. Actually, he doesn’t even have to show up.

The five categories (Horse of the year, Flat, National Hunt, Point-to-point and Outstanding achievement) are all very fine, but there were five other awards for 2011 that have not received much media attention:

Greatest expectation: Born To Sea

The last son of one of the greatest broodmares of all time, a half-brother to Galileo, a three-parts brother to Sea The Stars and, just in case you were in any doubt, his rider clad in the same yellow silks, purple cap, yellow star as his prolific sibling, it wasn’t surprising that expectation levels surrounding Born To Sea were up there with the eagle’s nest even before he set foot on a racecourse.

So when Christopher Tsui’s colt started off in a listed race at The Curragh in September, and John Oxx said quietly beforehand that they thought he might be useful, and when he won that listed race fairly comprehensively, it merely poured kerosene on the flames. Things didn’t pan out for him in his final race, when he was beaten by the talented Nephrite at Leopardstown, and time may show that the cliff-high expectations are not misplaced.

Greatest misplaced expectation: Betting tax panacea

The expectation for some time now has been that the ‘new’ betting legislation (we have long since exhaled) would be the combination that would unlock the door to the safe, and see racing’s coffers fully replenished. However, in spite of anticipations to the contrary, it now appears that, even if the new legislation can be drafted in such a way as to be effective in coaxing or forcing betting firms who target the Irish market from off-shore bunkers to contribute, any extra income will not be ring-fenced for the funding of racing.

So, even if the long-awaited betting legislation does bring in extra untold riches in the form of tax revenue, it will be back to cap-in-hand tactics for racing, competing with schools and hospitals and other worthy funding destinations.

Nearest miss: Oscar Time

Ask a racing enthusiast what horse won any of the last 30 Grand Nationals, and he will probably have a good go at answering correctly. Ask him what horse finished second, however, and he will struggle. The difference between first place and second place in the 2011 renewal for Oscar Time and his trainer Martin Lynch was massive, much more even than the £334,000 difference in prize money.

The season had gone perfectly for Oscar Time, a season that was designed from early to bring him to his peak for Aintree in April with a handicapping chance. And the race could hardly have gone more smoothly. Under the perfect ride from his amateur rider, he moved in behind Ballabriggs at the final fence, and managed to trade at 1/5 in-running, but just couldn’t get past.

The difference between winning and not winning was driven home the following day, when the Racing Post had nine pages on Ballabriggs and the newest Grand National winning-trainer, Donald McCain. Oscar Time, and his Castletown-Geoghegan-based trainer, got two paragraphs.

Best decision: The Turf Club

It is rare that a decision to do nothing receives high commendation, but such was the case when the Turf Club decided that a passive stance on the new whip rules in the UK was the best course of action.

History tells you that it is usually only a matter of time before new initiatives in British racing make their way to Ireland, for anything from race names (the Irish Cambridgeshire?) to the numbering of stalls (now inside-out as opposed to left-to-right). However, in simply setting up a highly competent committee to monitor developments on the new whip rules in the UK, the Turf Club has got this one right.

Best initiative: Go Racing Kids

In order for Irish horse racing to survive and thrive into the future, it is necessary that the racegoers of said future are introduced to the sport at a young age, when receptiveness is at its highest. It is imperative that new racegoers go racing for racing, not for the band or the best-dressed-lady competition or the free burger. To that end, HRI’s Go Racing Kids initiative is spot on. More of this please.

© The Racing Post, 22nd November 2011