The countdown to Cheltenham will dominate the next month but burbling underneath that feverish festival anticipation will be some frantic domestic lobbying as the reality of Simon Coveney’s review into Irish racing starts to take hold within the industry here.
The process of picking a body to do that review has still to be officially finalised but the rumour-mill suggests the Department of Agriculture, Food & The Marine won’t be making any surprise moves with Indecon favourite to get the gig.
The international economic consultants firm were employed by Horse Racing Ireland, the Breeders Association and the EBF to produce a report into the Irish racing and breeding industries in 2004 so it’s hardly going to be unknown territory for them.
Their brief will be to check the legislation into the governance of the industry, peruse the composition of the HRI board, examine the prospects of streamlining costs, look at regulation and of course that all-important funding.
That brings a whole lot of vested interests into play, all of which will be pushing their own agenda with a vengeance, which of course is at the root of many of the problems within the game.
Certainly those carrying out the review will not want for company as they endeavour to produce their report for Minister Coveney by early summer. And every vested interest will be convinced of the righteousness of its own cause.
The one question unlikely to be asked though is the very one that is fundamental to any root-and-branch review of the horse game – who is it run for?
In most racing jurisdictions, the answer is the punter, because the punter ultimately finances the whole thing. To suggest that in Ireland is laughable, which really is the fundamental problem here.
Instead, and especially in the current climate, the concentration is likely to be on the owner because from a government point of view, employment has to be a priority.
But if you accept that, then a commensurate emphasis on regulation has to be ensured, otherwise the risk of some real cowboy activity out on the track only increases.
Sadly, the powers that be within the game have made their attitude to regulation all too clear already: So, plus ca change.
Can someone explain why in a Leopardstown meeting containing four top-class contests, and with some rare RTE terrestrial coverage on hand, the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle was the first race on the card?
Surely in terms of selling a product, the idea is to put the side out. Yet, slap bang in the middle of the other Grade 1’s was a twenty four grand handicap that somehow was judged more worthy of a general television audience than a top-flight contest.
As for first impressions of the action, it’s hard to dismiss the idea that some of it will have only a minimal impact in terms of Cheltenham.
Quel Esprit hardly won the Hennessy with his head in his chest while Benefficient’s 50-1 Deloitte odds said plenty. Hisaabaat could run well though in the Triumph and Last Instalment looks the real deal, even if his Cheltenham chances are ground dependant.
But what was noticeable at Leopardstown were the lack-lustre performances of the English runners in both the Juvenile Hurdle and the Deloitte. It would be silly to read too much into their eclipse with just four weeks to go to the festival. But it would be silly to ignore it too.