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RTE Sports Awards

If you were ever thinking of getting ahead of yourself, if you were sitting there thinking that racing was an integral element of the Irish sporting psyche, wallowing in the after-glow of Minister Simon Coveney’s keynote speech at the HRI Awards last Monday, then the RTE Sports Awards show on Sunday evening was a little bit of a wake-up call.

It is easy, as a racing enthusiast, when you consistently fraternise with fellow racing enthusiasts, to create for yourself an impression of the importance of racing on the Irish sporting landscape. It is easy to operate within racing’s cocoon, secure in the understanding that racing travels, that the vast majority of non-cocoon-dwellers ‘get’ racing as well.

Apparently not so.

RTE has been both a barometer of, and an influencer on, Irish norms since its foundation. Of course, that position has been significantly diluted in recent years with the proliferation of alternative media, but it is still, at worst, one of the main games in town. Fortunately, however, it is not the definitive touchstone.

It was disappointing, in the first instance, that racing was not represented on the shortlist for the top award of Sports Person of the Year. Suddenly, it seems like a long time ago since Barry Geraghty won the award. Has racing regressed that much in eight years? Two golfers, two boxers, one hurler, one Gaelic footballer, one soccer player, a rugby player and a cricket player, our sports stars representing the disciplines that form the tapestry of the Irish sporting blanket – and cricket. (“It would be like England beating Ireland at hurling.”) No racing though. No jockeys, no trainers.

It wasn’t as if there were not worthy recipients around this year. You could put Aidan O’Brien or Willie Mullins on the shortlist any year, and this year you had two other stand-out contenders in Nina Carberry and Joseph O’Brien. Nina, who already transcends racing, became the first lady rider to win the Irish Grand National in 27 years in April; Joseph rode a Classic winner at the age of 18 in May, and became the youngest rider ever to win a Breeders’ Cup race when he booted St Nicholas Abbey home to win the Turf at Churchill Downs in November. Yet neither was worthy of a top-nine placing.

It was also disappointing that, when they rolled through the sporting highlights of the year, month-by-month, the months flashed by without racing. March came and went without a mention of Cheltenham, without even a head-tilt to a Champion Hurdle winner or the unprecedented 13 Irish-trained winners this year. April slipped past without a mention of the Irish National or Punchestown, June left without a mention of Aidan O’Brien’s 1-2-3 in the Irish Derby, July rolled past without Dermot Weld’s record-smashing 17 winners at Galway, November slipped past without a mention of O’Brien’s two Breeders’ Cup winners.

The month-by-month highlights covered the spectrum. It majored on the minorities, from UCD Marian’s defeat of 11890 Killester in the Men’s SuperLeague National Cup (basketball), and Derval O’Rourke’s fourth place finish in the 60m hurdles at the European Indoor Championships (athletics), to Cookstown’s 4-3 win over Monkstown in the Irish Senior Cup final (hockey), but it also highlighted the majors, like Ireland’s defeat of England in the final game of the Six Nations, the Cork and Dublin National League titles, and Manchester United’s Premier League win and Champions’ League final defeat, devoid of an explanation of its relevance to Irish sport.

Greyhound racing did get a mention, but the Irish Derby winner was named as Gorgeous George instead of Razldazl George. Badminton, rallying, sailing, cross-country, they all got a look-in, but no horse racing. Not a jot.

If you were staying up for the racing feature, you got it at 10.57pm. The piece with Joseph O’Brien and Nina Carberry was good, but the interviews with Aidan O’Brien and Willie Mullins were short. They were the right two people to have there, of course, but they got about 50 seconds each. The whole horse racing section got four minutes and 40 seconds. Less than five minutes in a show that lasted almost 100 seems a little short.

Of course, every sport could probably claim to have been under-represented in Sunday’s show, and there is a chance that we are deluding ourselves as to the importance of racing as a sport. There is a chance that we are mixing up its importance as an industry that employs 15,000 people in rural Ireland with its importance as a sport.

However, horse racing is a sport in which Ireland continually punches well above its weight, in which Irish horses and Irish sports people continually achieve at the highest level, not only in Ireland and in the UK, but also on the world stage. It is difficult to equate Irish achievements domestically or at Cheltenham or in Churchill Downs this year with comparable achievements in other sports, but you can be sure that, whatever barometer you use, they are right up there towards the top.

There is also a chance that we are not deluding ourselves.

© The Racing Post, 20th December 2011