The success of the Galway festival in attracting massive crowds is really the definitive proof of how quality on the track doesn’t reflect in numbers in the stands. But it will still be interesting to see the crowd patterns during the course of Leopardstown this week.
It’s no programming accident that most of the top prizes are later in the festival. The St Stephens Day tradition of going racing is so established there are those who believe throwing the Grade 1 novice chase at it is a waste of a potential attraction that could be more usefully employed further into the festival.
Whatever about that, it is true that many of the St Stephens Day crowd turn up out of the same habit and follow-the-mob tradition that sends the turnstiles spinning at Galway. What occurs out on the track is essentially irrelevant in the pursuit of a good day out.
But what will be fascinating in particular this Christmas will be the impact on crowd levels of the eagerly-anticipated Lexus Chase where Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs, Hidden Cyclone et al are scheduled to start.
If there’s a potential Gold Cup winner in Ireland, it’s likely to appear in the Lexus. That will capture the purists while the interest in Flemestar and Peter Casey has broken into the mainstream. Will all this be reflected in the attendance?
If it was a flat fixture, it would be heavy odds-on towards the negative. But National Hunt fans are different we keep being told. If that’s the case, then the famous pull can hardly be any greater than for this Lexus. How many more will hitch their wagon to it compared to Stephens Day?
HRI’s 2013 budget plans revealed recently point to how a joint working-group is being established with the Turf Club to advance proposals into the future redevelopment of the Curragh.
It’s an admirable aim, and one encouraged recently by Simon Coveney, but considering the scale of work needed to make any significant dent on the face of Irish racing’s HQ, the term “working group” brings to mind Sir Humphrey in “Yes Minister” and his penchant for committees that provide the appearance of motion without any of the actual movement.
But it doesn’t do to be too definitive about such things.
Another working group consisting of HRI, the Turf and the INHSC is working with a chartered accountants firm in relation to Coveney’s demand for E1.5 million worth of efficiencies in the streamlining of racing’s organisation.
There’s likely to be a lot more practical considerations and a lot less aspirational stuff in that particular group.
Before the week is out, one of the most distinctive and effective broadcast voices will disappear from our screens and television racing will be the poorer for it.
In terms of style John Francome might not be everyone’s cup of tea but no one can pretend he has been just another smooth television voice.
That country burr ensured his tones were instantly recognisable, but the former champion jockey’s famous disdain for authority has also meant a willingness to call it as he sees it.
The credibility of having been one of the finest jump jockeys in history helped him but there are plenty examples of top ex-jockeys opting for the safe middle-ground when it comes to criticism of high-profile racing personalities, preferring banality to honesty.
Francome has never been afraid to voice his opinions, even if they veered off the course racing as an entity would prefer him to have stayed on.
The whip is a perfect example and his advocacy for experimenting with using the stick only in the forehand position will come to be regarded as visionary in time.
With the upcoming changeover at Channel 4, Francome’s decision to hang up his microphone reflects the sort of timing he was famous for out on the track. But the telly will be duller for his absence.
And finally, a Christmas winner: if only it were that simple.
A real Christmas gift would be to say nothing, but in the festive tradition of exchanging useless tat, let’s plump for Urano in the very first race on Wednesday. There’s a hype horse in Ned Buntline to keep the price honest and not many win three bumpers in France like Urano did.
There, that’s something else for the bin. Happy Christmas!