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Brian O'Connor

Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

No Might About Bite

Might Bite (left) rallies to beat Whisper at Cheltenham last yearMight Bite (left) rallies to beat Whisper at Cheltenham last year
© Photo Healy Racing

It's just over three weeks to the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Michael O'Leary reckons the enigmatic Might Bite should be an evens favourite on the day. There are a billion reasons to suggest the Ryanair boss's judgement is superior to most everyone else's. But he's wrong about Might Bite - probably. Bitter experience teaches you not to be too unequivocal about such things. This corner isn't brazenly pledging to go tackle-out-nude down the street should Might Bite actually win the Gold Cup. A skimpy yet decorous option might be different though.

After a weekend when Our Duke re-inflated his Gold Cup hopes, and the Coney Island balloon popped with a bang, we're in possession of all the solid racecourse evidence there is going to be in terms of what might win steeplechasing's 'Blue Riband' event. If you're feeling wiser then you're in a minority. But you do at least have the champion owner for company.

O'Leary believes the Gold Cup is Might Bite's to lose. Since he's in the habit of downplaying his own chances - and this year his hopes rest on the worthy Road To Respect - plenty will take that with a pinch of salt. The thing is that in terms of raw ability he's probably right. Might Bite's wayward passage from the last got all the attention in last year's RSA. But what he did in pulling victory out of the fire against Whisper was spectacular. His position as Gold Cup favourite however is based on him behaving differently the next time he faces that hill. And that's a leap of faith.

Might Bite has run four times at Cheltenham. In three of those he hung right coming up the hill. On the other occasion he was beaten and eased before the last. Maybe it's the chute back up to the stable-yard that's making him do it. Maybe he wants to visit the tented village. But he's got form at Cheltenham that's about more than winning. There's no logical reason why that should change, a factor built into his current 7-2 Gold Cup odds.

Maybe Nicky Henderson will produce a bit of magic when it counts and it is true Might Bite hasn't put a foot wrong since that dramatic RSA. There is a sense though that whatever mix of psychological oddities are rattling around inside the handsome son of Scorpion have been contained rather than cured. His King George performance was that of a hugely talented horse racing within himself. But his talent really will have to be singular if he's to manage the same in a Gold Cup.

More probable is that in the closing stages containment will cease to be an option. He will have to put it all out there and race on instinct. And the evidence suggests Might Bite's Cheltenham instincts are to hang.

As to who might take advantage, backing Sizing John after his last race requires something of a leap of faith too. Our Duke is prone to the sort of ignorant mistake Cheltenham punishes. Native River needs it soft. Killultagh Vic has a huge amount to prove coming off a fall. A switch to the Gold Cup can't prevent many of us suspecting Willie Mullins would prefer the Grand National for Total Recall. And that leaves Road To Respect as a perfectly viable option on good ground.

His owner mightn't like to hear it but 10-1 about Road To Respect looks a much more realistic play than evens Might Bite. However laying the latter for all your worth looks the best festival play of all at this stage.

Whatever the outcome it's a relief to talk horses again. There's been a lot of politics recently and after all it's supposed to be about racing. Except of course when it isn't. It seems this urge to sell the sport through anything but the sport itself is far from just an Irish impulse.

Apparently the odds are shortening on the introduction of Championship Horse Racing in Britain next year. It's a team competition concept with a Formula One type scoring system designed to attract a dozen global brands into a valuable eight week summer series. Effectively it's pinning a F1 model onto racing with a commercial selling point of luring new 'brands' to a game supposedly dwelling in a corporate backwater.

A number of leading figures in Britain have rowed in behind the project and that's no surprise. Racing professionals who 'poo-poo' potential investment are rare. They're maybe even more rare than the numbers of people who underneath everything suspect this isn't just another fanciful exercise in headline generation.

There are quite a few problems with this idea, not the least of which is that the last time I checked team tactics are against the rules of racing. At its root however is this deep-rooted 'morkoting' orthodoxy whereby actual racing isn't enough to sell racing to the public. Instead gimmickery like sending horses down the Champs Elysees gets seriously pitched. And what's worse gets seriously received.

It's certainly ironic how the F1 comparison is being pitched as an attempt to introduce more 'character' to racing's presentation. Modern racing drivers are famously as boring as ditchwater. Many motoring hacks over the years will testify to their being more joy interviewing the cars.

Finally, it's now two years since the publication of Irish racing's Anti-Doping Task Force report and the industry still hasn't come up with a workable method of ensuring meaningful out of competition testing gets carried out. It was 18 months before that when the Task Force was set up as an absolute priority. Now it's been reconvened to try and resolve the impasse. This has gone beyond satire.

The horse game needs to be serious about tackling drugs - and be seen to be serious - or risks losing vital credibility.

Yet any progress of any sort continues to be glacial, with the problem of jurisdiction still front and centre. Any system unable to effectively trace a thoroughbred throughout its life is useless. It risks merely being a cosmetic exercise of the sort that nurtured the problem in the first place.

And the longer this interminable process drags on, with a system by which the racing and breeding sectors effectively regulate themselves seemingly as far away as ever, the more the suspicion grows there's no real will to change. So if they're unable or unwilling to help themselves, the more the onus has to be on government to step in.

Jurisdiction is the crux of the problem which looks like something only the state can fix. Since it is Department of Agriculture officials who have the authority to go wherever they want the jurisdiction problem would become a non-runner in one fell swoop. And the state has enough of a stake in the horse game to make its credibility an issue.

So surely it is time to examine the prospect of ring-fencing part of the Horse & Greyhound Fund to finance an effective anti-doping system that protects that stake. It's dispiriting such a move is required. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to avoid the conclusion that asking racing to do this properly is asking too much.