Sometimes you wonder if it is worth the trouble. The Easter Sunday feature at Cork was the Grade 3 Imperial Call Chase, a three mile chase worth E27,500. Four runners turned up on perfect jumping ground. The top-rated amongst the quartet was Give Us A Hand on a mark of 107: Which is pretty pathetic.
It’s an old refrain, slagging off trainers and owners for not entering lucrative races and producing small fields. Normally though there is a reason, usually centring on not blowing a handicap mark. But there doesn’t appear to be anything obvious about this race.
The race conditions weren’t weird, it was three miles, the ground was fine and there was an almost E18,000 first prize. Unless eighteen grand has suddenly become something to be sniffed at by an industry almost permanently pleading the poor mouth, then there’s no real reason why there wasn’t a much better field lining up, both in terms of quality and quantity.
In fact it could be argued that it was a much more realistic option for some of those lining up in the Irish National. Sure, the National has a prestige value, and a much bigger prize-fund, but the 2012 Imperial Call Chase looked there to be picked up.
It’s hardly unusual for there to be a small field in the race either. Just four lined up in 2011 as well. Half a dozen were there in 2010 but only four raced in 2008 and five in 2007.
What must really grate on Horse Racing Ireland’s nerves however is that they promoted the race from Listed to Grade 3 class last year. And they get rewarded with this. It really does look like ignoring the hand that feeds.
Then again, it can go to the other extreme too. The Irish Grand National is an institution in racing terms, secure in an Easter Monday date that can impact on the race in terms of quality but which is a priceless USP for Fairyhouse.
The calendar has conspired to impact on the 2012 version in quality terms, something signalled by the whole field being in the handicap proper.
But only those with an agenda can argue that the final declared field couldn’t have been assembled for less than half the E250,000 pot.
John Gosden is a trainer always worth listening to and his comments last week about what the complexion of the game will probably look like in future were instructive.
“If we were standing here in 50 years time, I think we’d find that all of the powerful flat racing will all be in the Middle East and the Far East – Hong Kong, China, Malaysia, Australia, India. That’s where the strength is going to be,” the Newmarket trainer said.
“With dirt racing and the medication issues, America is slightly painting itself into a corner. In fact, their breed is becoming ever less relevant as 80% of the racing in the world is on turf and synthetic models turf quite well. I see the whole future of racing as east, east, east,” Gosden added.
The logic of his comments on American racing are impossible to argue with and anyone presuming that the prestige of the top races in Britain and Ireland will be enough to guarantee the presence of the world’s best bred horses here in the long-term are surely erring on the side of over-optimism.
Money might talk but real money only has to whisper and a casual change of focus anytime in the future by a couple of the behemoths of the European-centric bloodstock industry would cut the foundations out of the game here.
The fundamental weakness of racing here and in Britain remains the lack of a sustainable betting system and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. If a handful of the best-known sets of racing colours were to vanish overnight, then the stark impact on the quality of horses racing here would be far too obvious far too quickly.
And finally, what would Aintree National week be without a tip?
Synchronised might have a lot going for him on the book but the National fences were always regarded as being too much for such a diminutive horse and not even a Gold Cup success has made him physically sprout.
Instead there still appear to be some scraps of 33-1 available about Organisedconfusion and that looks good each way value.
And if Nina Carberry can become the first woman to ride an Aintree National winner, then it will be just due recognition of a singular talent.