Vincent Finegan

Vincent Finegan

Light at the end of the tunnel

Many racing fans watched 2020 Irish Derby weekend from the public road
© Photo Healy Racing

From next Monday owners will be permitted to return to the racetrack. This is obviously great news for the sport but we’re still some way off seeing any significant numbers of the general public visiting a racecourse as the government continues to steer a conservative route out of lockdown.

No members of the public have been permitted to attend race meetings in Ireland for over 14 months and, apart from a short period during September 2020, owners have been in the same boat.

The earliest date for the return of racing fans is the last weekend of June when the Curragh stages Derby Weekend. This meeting has been included in a pilot scheme of sporting and cultural events by the government which will see audiences of up to 1,000 spectators.

A decision has yet to be made on how the 1,000 golden tickets will be distributed but I’ll be shocked if more than a handful make it down to non-connnected racing fans. The Curragh has thirteen major race sponsors over the weekend - Dubai Duty Free, GAIN, Paddy Power, Comer Group, Sherry Fitzgerald etc - all of which will be looking for an allocation. Then there are all the other race sponsors across the season at the Curragh who’ll be a bit miffed if they don’t get their share. And that is before we get to the shareholders in Curragh Ltd who coughed up more than once for the redevelopment of the stand.

You’d need the Bob Baffert book of excuses at hand to sort this lot out.

Whatever the final split is we do know that the actual race day experience for the 1,000 will be somewhat restricted and weather dependent. The pilot events will be outdoor with mask wearing compulsory.

The racing authorities have far more experience of running events during Covid_19 than any other sports bodies in the country, so you’d expect these pilot days to go smoothly.

More pilot dates are planned in July and with a bit of luck the numbers permitted to attend will have increased significantly by the time the Galway Races comes along towards the end of that month.

The betting markets have changed quite dramatically during lockdown and it’s now often difficult to distinguish real gambles from bookmaker-led false market moves.

Prices tumble at an alarming rate these days and there was another prime example at Punchestown on Sunday when the David Dunne-trained Full Noise shortened from 12/1 to 8/11 favourite for a 15 runners handicap hurdle. This sort of market plunge was once confined to the like of Barney Curley in his heyday but is not far off an everyday occurrence nowadays.

Full Noise’s previous five attempts over hurdles had resulted in heavy defeats — beaten 91 lengths, 101 lengths, 53 lengths, 61 lengths and most recently 68 in his first handicap hurdle — which meant there wasn’t much indication in the formbook as to whether this was a real or contrived gamble.

It turned out, not for the first time recently with a Dunne-trained runner, that it was certainly the real deal and Full Noise won the race.

From a punters’ perspective it’s virtually impossible to determine what’s really going on behind these market moves prior to the exchange markets gaining liquidity near to the off of the races.

Dunne had a runner called All Class at Dundalk on March 5 which tumbled during the day from 200/1 to 11/2 for a maiden race. You could be mistaken for thinking that this horse was strongly expected to win this race but by race time at 7pm the horse had drifted back out to 100/1 and never showed with a chance in the race itself.

The stewards inquired into the running and riding of All Class after the Dundalk race but simply noted the explanations.

All Class was backed from 66/1 to 9/2 on her next start in her first handicap at Navan on March 27 and won easily. She then won again (6/1 to 9/4) off 10lbs higher at Gowran Park on May 4.

The Navan stewards inquired into the horse’s sudden improvement in form and were not fully satisfied with the explanations offered by Dunne and referred the matter to their CEO Denis Egan for further investigation.

The Punchestown stewards also interviewed Dunne after Sunday’ successful gamble with Full Noise and again referred the matter on for further investigation.

Both All Class and Full Noise gained handicap marks under different codes prior to their recent improvements. If their new-found ability transfers to hurdles in the case of All Class and fences for Full Noise David Dunne will likely be back in front of the stewards with more explaining to do.

Punters in general like the idea of someone getting one over on the bookies and many will row in behind these gambles but the bookmakers know this and there are plenty more red herrings than the real thing these days.

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