It has been a strange couple of weeks. Obviously, Minella Indo winning the Gold Cup was brilliant and meant a lot to us, given that we had him four years and brought him through. It was just mighty.
At the same time though, we are part of a strong sector of point-to-point producers, who despite their role in rearing, educating and showcasing the ability of 13 of the 23 Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham last week, are being prevented from running their businesses.
There are plenty of businesses in the same boat. I am a hotelier in Clonmel and the Minella Hotel has been empty a long while, so I don’t need people to explain that to me, that people are suffering everywhere.
But the problem with point-to-pointing is the lack of understanding, particularly within government circles, of its role. There is the perception that it is amateur, when it is nothing of the sort.
I said earlier in the week that Cheltenham was like Italia ’90 for horseracing. But if point-to-pointing isn’t allowed return after next week, it could have catastrophic effects on the National Hunt game in Ireland.
We need Horse Racing Ireland to lobby very hard on this for the last week. Right now, we’re on the back foot it seems. I organised a meeting with our local TDs Jackie Cahill and Mattie McGrath on Monday. I only had fellas within the constituency meeting them. Between us, we employed around 80 people. I would say through all the producers in the country, you’re talking 1000 people, directly and indirectly. Those jobs are under significant threat now.
Proof that the government doesn’t understand was the Minister for Agriculture, Charlie McConnalogue, wondering why we couldn't just race through June and July. That is no fault of his, but he just doesn’t understand and we need Horse Racing Ireland to really clear that up.
There is a danger too that they might say we have been catered for by the provision of five extra fixtures on the track to hold bumpers for point-to-point horses. That was welcome but it really only suited about five per cent of the stock. Really, it is like trying to sell meat to vegetarians, looking to sell bumper horses, when the attraction for the last number of years has been a horse with proven form over fences. And if one of them wins one of the maiden hurdles that was put on, he is immediately less attractive to buyers because his novice status is lost.
We have a month left, because we can’t jump these young horses on firmer summer ground, it just isn’t safe. If we don’t get racing and can’t move them on, there is a knock-on effect at the store sales and the foal sales. It is bad news for everyone; for the breeders, the pinhookers, the point-to-point producers and the end game, the racing world, because you are missing that filter where the quality has been showcased. And where that education has not been provided. And just to remind people again, 13 of the 23 Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham this year came through the point-to-point fields. That should leave no-one in any doubt as to how important the sector is.
If it’s about not being able to ensure people weren’t climbing ditches to get into the meetings, though we had shown we could do it prior to the plug being pulled, it might be worth running a month’s worth of points at racetracks. There could be a way of making that work, of providing some funding to them to open up. You could have a team of lads like stall handlers, just to bring the five point-to-point style fences from one track to the next. It’s doable, if the will is there.
You think of places like Ballinrobe, Sligo, Roscommon, Thurles, Tipperary. You could set the fences up say in Ballinrobe. Have two days’ racing there, then move on to Roscommon and do two more days there. Because you only have a month in it.
It was great to see Minella Indo put it all together on the biggest day after a few things going wrong earlier in the season. He clearly likes Cheltenham, having won the Albert Bartlett, when he was our second Festival winner after Minella Rocco, and just got caught by Champ in the RSA last year.
We kept him until he was five. He could have made it at four but we always want to do right by the horse and played it cautiously with him.
We bought him as a foal from the Lalors, who bred him, for €24,000 at Tatts in November 2013. He is a Beat Hollow, it’s a good family, but his dam was 22 and people thought we were a bit mad buying out of a 22-year-old mare. He came through the system well and we just didn’t rush him to get him out at four.
When we saddled him up at Dromahane, the day after St Patrick’s Day in 2018, he was ready and he won easily. And the rest is history.
That is the dream but it is the business too. I hope the government are helped to understand this and take it into account, so we can get back under way in April.