As anyone who has had anything to do with surveys knows, it is how the questions are asked that often dictates the answers. And sometimes who is doing the asking is important too. So the outcome of the tendering process which identifies who will carry out Minister Coveney’s much-anticipated review of racing’s administration will be of immense interest.
Applications will close at the end of this month for a process that is expected to report back to the Minister by the end of April. The reverberations of this could ripple through racing for a long time to come so who the Department of Agriculture picks will exercise more than a few influential minds.
Advisory and auditory companies are what the Department are looking at with the emphasis put firmly on the winners being “independent external consultants.” The advertisement that has appeared in the media also stresses the applicants must have the “technical and professional ability and with relevant experience” while they must possess “a sound knowledge of the policy framework and financing arrangements relating to the Irish horse racing industry.”
Whew, that’s quite a cocktail. The reviewers obviously must know about business, about racing, its finances, and most of all, must be independent. So basically the Minister is looking for perfection. The idea that a business company in Ireland can fulfil exactly all those criteria must be questionable. To do so, they must have all the worldly ‘nous’ that high-finance demands while at the same exist in a morally pristine incubator that rules out even the possibility of contact with some of the major players within racing. Colour me dubious.
Much more likely is that Minister Coveney already has a pretty good idea of what he wants to do come the summer time and even more likely is that racing’s wish for another tame politician who will cough up the cash and then take a powder will be disappointed.
A slimmed-down HRI with much more direct government input must be an odds-on favourite right now, with an illusion of independent regulation contained under the one large racing administrative umbrella. Dispensing with real independent regulation would be a mistake, but that’s the way racing governance is going worldwide. All of which doesn’t mean its right.
Whoever wins though might do well to take a trip to Australia before doing anything at home. In fact the experience of being in a major racing administration with a betting model that actually works should be obligatory for anyone involved in racing administration here.
Experiencing first-hand the simplicity of the Australian system only throws Ireland’s contradictory mess into even harsher light. Down under, on-course bookmakers and an on-course Tote operate together but most importantly of all there is an off-course Tote system that finances the whole racing industry and not just the shareholders of a few conglomerates.
Of course such trips won’t happen. For one thing, they would be dismissed as junkets. And secondly, they’d cost a few quid – precisely what’s lacking here and not, funnily enough, in Australia.
We’re in the middle of the relative fallow period that is January, the customary lull that follows the Christmas action and comes before the Irish Champion Hurdle fixture when all that pre-Cheltenham build-up starts to crank into gear.
It’s a good time to take stock and maybe re-think some preconceived ideas, such as the one that suggests there isn’t a horse within shouting distance of Gold Cup class in Ireland.
In the immediate aftermath of Synchronized’s Lexus win, that was a logical conclusion to come to. This corner argued it more vehemently than most. But Colm Murphy’s recent comments about Quito De La Roque’s third place leaving him very disappointed were heartening.
That’s not suggest Quito is a prime Gold Cup contender. Clearly he isn’t right now. But it is also clear that a horse like Rubi Light shouldn’t have out-stayed the Gigginstown star from the last. He could have done many things to Quito De La Roque but hardly out-stay him. Quito can’t have been right.
At odds of 33-1, it might be worth a speculative each way ante-post interest that Quito De La Roque turns up a different animal at Cheltenham. The extra quarter mile will suit, as will the hill and it doesn’t require too big a leap of the imagination to see him plug on into a place.
And if something happens to either of the big two, then you never know.