National Hunt fans tend to look up their financial noses at the flat when it comes to money, and how the winter sport is resolutely for the ‘small man,’ but it will be hard to argue that at Cheltenham 2013 when the vast majority of big Irish hopes will be in such a tiny minority of hands.
In fact it’s much easier to argue that far from any egalitarian paradise, jump racing in Ireland right now is balanced on just four ownership uprights – JP McManus, Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown Stud, Rich Ricci and Ann & Alan Potts.
There are other major investors such as Barry Connell and Dr Ronan Lambe but really it comes down to the ‘big four,’ and a remarkable result of their near-monopoly is that despite a desperate recession, most of the best young talent in the country still ends up being trained here.
Not only that, but their financial clout extends to France too, as will be shown at Cheltenham through the likes of Sir Des Champs and Pont Alexandre.
That’s a helluva upside considering how the 1980’s recession saw Irish fans travelling to the festival very much in hope rather than expectation. And while monopolies by definition have drawbacks, a lot of small operations are getting by purely on the hope of selling something on to the big boys for big money.
However any inverted snobbery of disdaining the flat because of its exclusivity sounds very hollow when in the upcoming major championship races basically only Hurricane Fly and Quevega figure outside the big-four ownership battalions.
And as everyone knows, the only comparative point for Willie Mullins’s domination of the training ranks is with a certain Ballydoyle trainer.
Speaking of Aidan O’Brien, he has a couple of entries for a bumper at Punchestown this week, one of them being Egyptian Warrior, a full brother to no less than the Derby favourite Kingsbarns.
The suggestion by the RSPCA boss that the field for the Aintree Grand National should be reduced by half is a point of view, but a point of view unfamiliar with the race’s fundamental appeal.
It is the lottery element that has made the National unique. Adaptations to the fences have been extensive, maybe even counter-productively so since it is speed that is the primary danger, and the concentration on lowering the obstacles and improving the quality of the horses has sped the race up considerably.
On the back of that, reducing the field size would effectively turn the National into just another long-distance handicap. Maybe that’s something the RSPCA chief isn’t aware of that – or maybe he realises it only too well.
The National in its current form is under severe pressure. The loss of the John Smith’s sponsorship is as sure a sign of changing public attitudes as you will ever need. Like most everything else, it comes down to following the money.
That Navan cancellation caught more than a few on the hop. There had been little or no inkling of any problem about the Sunday meeting going ahead when news of the cancellation came through on Friday morning.
Predicting anything to do with the weather in Ireland is a thankless task and there is always a tendency towards putting the best side out, often an admirable position to take.
But apparently just a few millimetres of overnight rain helped tip the balance against racing and if something is that marginal surely giving people a heads-up about ‘monitoring’ the situation during the week, especially in regard to such a significant fixture, would have been advisable.
It is certainly something for HRI to consider. To err on the side of caution in these situations might not result in positive headlines but keeping people within the loop is surely more important.
And finally, all that ‘how many winners have you ridden stuff?” Sometimes it really is best to ignore those doing the riding.
According to Joe Tizzard he had two more gears to reach for on Cue Card when Captain Chris made that Ascot Chase mistake at the second last. Yeah? And I had two more gears to reach for after recently completing a sub-four minute mile. It wasn’t Brave Inca you were riding Joe.