Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Over-Egging The Mix

Mon 11th Sep 2017, 08:55

Decorated Knight leads home a British 1-2-3 in Champion Stakes
©Healy Racing Photos
It's some effort to generate a sense of afterthought about a triple Group 1 card worth over two million Euro. But Irish racing managed it on Sunday. Maybe it was because it came the day after Leopardstown's first leg of 'Champions Weekend.' And the weather certainly didn't help. But the rudimentary nature of the facility presented at the Curragh was in stark contrast to the entire 'Champions Weekend' pitch which is supposedly a promotional shop-window to the world. This promotion suggested closed shop rather than please come in.

Only a sport and industry as clannish and smug as racing can argue a building site is the best place to showcase your best bib and tucker to the world. It's no fault of the team on the ground at the Curragh who have done a fine job with the brief given to them. But the abiding memory for most of the paltry 5,370 people on-site is likely to be the sound of canvas rattling in the wind and rain. As an ambience for supposed excellence it owed more to a point to point than a Group 1 event.

This is a futile argument in terms of outcome. The board of Horse Racing Ireland has approved the 2018 fixture list and it will be the same deal for 'Champions Weekend' next year with Leopardstown on Saturday and the Curragh on Sunday. So nothing's going to change. And that testifies to just how ingrained is the sense within racing that people really will put up with anything. And even if they don't, so what, even if it reduces any promotion brief to a joke and stalls momentum behind this 'Champions Weekend' project.

Considering how excellent a race the Irish Champion Stakes was a year ago, and how relatively underwhelming Saturday's was in comparison, a 13,689 crowd at Leopardstown is not to be sniffed at, even if it is the second lowest of the four 'Champions Weekend' attendances to date at the Dublin track. But the Curragh's inevitable slide due to capacity restrictions meant a major dip in overall attendance and that's not irrelevant since we're constantly reminded this is a single entity with the task of increasing racing's profile. Attendance is just one element - but surely a vital one.

However for nostalgia's sake let's point out how a little bit of foresight and wit could easily have organised an entire 'Champions Weekend' programmes at Leopardstown both this year and next if the will to do so existed. It would have treated the paying public to the courtesy of concrete rather than canvas and helped show off Irish racing at its best rather than making do. There would also have been a novelty factor which could have maintained momentum rather than stall it until the Curragh reopens in 2019. Instead the shop window was left to look a rumpled afterthought.

Mind you racing can always put on a good show when it suits, opening the shop up good and wide when it's worthwhile.

For instance, last week Horse Racing released a report it commissioned on the economic impact of Irish racing and breeding. The headline figures made impressive reading. Irish racing and breeding supported 28,900 jobs last year and generated €1.84 billion in expenditure. There was a headline spectator figure of 1.3 million with other estimates of a quarter of the adult population here interested in racing.

All this came with the enthusiastic backing of the Minister for Agriculture who indicated the document will be considered by government on the run in to next month's budget, presumably the point of the exercise since HRI is going all out for more funding in 2018.

If HRI didn't make the pitch they wouldn't be doing their job. So painting a strong statistical picture as justification for more money is hardly unreasonable. Nevertheless parts of the report bring to mind the famous words of the English jazz club owner Ronnie Scott who once recalled how the bouncer was outside throwing them in.

For instance I'm apparently part of the 28,900 jobs. Media types are estimated to number 100, including the racing correspondents of the national newspapers. So technically yours truly is supported by racing which will be news to the media organisation that pays me and to many trainers, owners and jockeys who know all too well who is and isn't in the shop.

It feels a big stretch too for Irish racing to claim about 6,000 full and part time employees in the off-course betting industry, apparently on the basis that racing is the largest sport in that sector by a considerable margin.

That's quite a claim given the remorseless rise of sports betting but especially the relatively modest percentage of turnover on the horses that Irish racing generates. There are other jobs totted up too in what are termed auxiliary services which might otherwise be reasonably expected to be categorised under those sectors that actually pay them.

Given that 2009's report for the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association complied by Alan Dukes estimated racing had generated just over 22,000 jobs the year before, and statistics relating to registered owners and trainers have mainly been on the slide since, along with decreases in the numbers of licensed betting offices, not to mention criteria on revenue generation which racing can reasonably lay a claim to, the new report certainly paints an interesting and embracing portrait.

Boiling it down though, and after trying to wade through some migraine inducing methodology, perhaps the most important figure in it is the straightforward one as to how the core breeding and racing industry, the one dealing with actual horses on the ground, is estimated to support 9,500 full time employees.

That indicates a significant and vital rural industry in itself. It's self explanatory. It doesn't need talking up. A pitch of 'stale fish for sale' is no pitch at all. But even on the run in to a budget this feels like over-egging the mix.

And finally, and I know I'm repeating myself, if Joseph O'Brien had given Sir John Lavery the ride Ryan Moore did at Leopardstown on Saturday he would have had to dive into the nearest trench to take cover. Yet for the man regularly billed as the world's leading jockey it largely gets filed in the 'one of those things' file. And no I'm not talking through my pocket. But it won't be the strangest thing in the world if Sir John Lavery winds up a very high class miler indeed.

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