There was a time when rearranging racing fixtures around the calendars of other sports felt defeatist but a noticeable reversal of the attendance trend at the Hennessy meeting means it’s hard to argue with the logic anymore.
A Leopardstown crowd of 10,658 was up six per cent on the previous year, a rare example of the crowd graph going upwards which must be at least significantly due to visitors to Dublin making a sporting weekend of it.
They even managed to produce bookmaker turnover less than a hundred grand down on twelve months previously which in the current climate is pretty much a result.
Overall it can be presented as vindication of HRI’s call last year to move one of the game’s most prestigious National Hunt fixtures back a day, and not a lack of faith in the core product against competing sporting attractions.
It must be said such flexibility is not just confined to racing either. The GAA calendar, a contributory factor to the Derby getting moved from a Sunday, was altered too at the weekend in recognition of the reality that the Ireland-England rugby match was the overarching sports story.
However it might do to caution against going overboard.
When it suits racing, and its core support, to fiddle around with dates and times, then fair enough: but pandering to the TV schedules, and the resultant money, can be taken too far. Any business person will warn against presuming too much on your regulars.
Presuming too much on horses is even more dangerous, yet it now looks safe to assume Flemenstar ain’t going for the Gold Cup. But you never know: opinions differ.
They certainly seem to differ in the Flemenstar camp. Peter Casey’s son Francis came out with a lovely line on the back of the Hennessy defeat, saying the Flemenstar bubble might be deflated but a long way from burst. Casey Snr seems set on a tilt at the Champion Chase. Yet the owner seems convinced the real Flemenstar didn’t show up in the Hennessy, saying he never travelled under Andrew Lynch.
That certainly didn’t look the case. He didn’t do too much, as in the Lexus, but Flemenstar always looked to be tanking along. And for those who insist he doesn’t stay three miles, all we know for sure after Saturday is that he doesn’t stay three miles as well as Sir Des Champs.
Lynch started to niggle on the turn-in. Would a horse completely unsuited to the trip have closed up to less than a length half way up the run-in? Sir Des Champs was going away at the line, but we could easily be talking about the Cheltenham Gold Cup champion here. At some stage, although maybe not this season, trying Flemenstar at three miles again, on good ground especially, could be an exercise well worth considering.
It wasn’t a bad Hennessy meeting for favourite backers overall even though the odds-on Flemenstar got turned over. But surely the shortest odds-on shot of all was Bog Warrior’s withdrawal from the big race.
The official excuse was he was “coughing.” And no doubt he was coughing his guts up at Tony Martin’s yard. Yet it is impossible to ignore the pattern this season of Gigginstown declaring more than one, only to shave their representation on the day of the race.
It usually manifests itself on Sunday fixtures when there is more than forty eight hours between declaration and race-time, but to those on the ground, there was little surprise about Bog Warrior’s non-appearance, leaving Gigginstown to rely solely on Sir Des Champs.
It turned into a red-letter day for Michael O’Leary with Sir Des Champs’ success and in the overall scheme of things, nit-picking about non-runners is pretty small beer.
Overall, Gigginstown run an admirably straight-forward operation with a minimum of messing from a punter’s point of view and are hugely important to the National Hunt industry overall. Even this non-runner pattern has a certain predictability to anyone paying even the slightest attention.
Gigginstown possess so many good horses that overlapping is inevitable sometimes but they are not alone in that and there was a sense at the weekend of the you-know-what being torn out of it when it came to an already small Grade 1 field being reduced even further.