British racing’s post-mortem begins after dismal Cheltenham

HRI chief Brian Kavanagh says focus should be on quality horses wherever they’re from

Jockey Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo ahead of A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore (right) during day four of the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: David Davies/Jockey Club

Jockey Jack Kennedy celebrates winning the WellChild Cheltenham Gold Cup on Minella Indo ahead of A Plus Tard and Rachael Blackmore (right) during day four of the Cheltenham Festival. Photo: David Davies/Jockey Club

 

Racing’s top official believes the Anglo-Irish element to last week’s Cheltenham Festival is a “secondary issue.”

With the sport here basking in the afterglow of a record-breaking 23-5 rout of their cross-channel rivals, in Britain a painful post-mortem on how to turn the tide is well underway.

One top trainer, Harry Fry, admitted he and his British colleagues need to up their game.

“There’ll be a lot of British-based trainers taking a hard look at themselves and working out where we can raise our game, because we need to, or we’re going to be left behind quickly,” he said on Sunday.

Another leading British trainer, Dan Skelton, added: “They’re just better at the moment, it’s as simple as that.

“There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.

“We have to become better competitors - especially at that meeting - and this was the catalyst for it. I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”

Comparisons to embarrassing sporting drubbings such as Tiger Woods leaving his rivals in the dust by 15 shots at the 2000 US Open, and Brazil’s humiliating 7-1 defeat to Germany at the 2014 World Cup, have underlined how one-sided much of last week’s action was.

Here Willie Mullins described it as a “seminal week” for Irish racing.

Planning and vision

He said the results from the four days at jump racing’s biggest meeting, which saw winners for 10 Irish trainers in Ireland and 13 Irish-based jockeys, came from the long-term planning and vision of Horse Racing Ireland and in particular it’s chief executive Brian Kavanagh.

“We have a product here which is second to none at the moment, thanks to his guidance and the push for Government grant money.

“The structure of our programme is bearing fruit in the success that Irish racing is having,” Mullins said in a column for sportinglife.com.

However, Kavanagh himself was keen to play down the national element to the Cheltenham results.

Asked on Sunday if the traditional Anglo-Irish rivalry at the Cheltenham Festival is sustainable in such one-sided circumstances he described that element as secondary to the appeal of good horses competing.

“That’s a secondary issue. People want to see the best horses racing. The Ireland-England thing is a secondary aspect to Cheltenham.

“Personally I’m not a fan of this Prestbury Cup. The important thing last week was that Cheltenham put on a great show.

“We got Irish horses, trainers and staff over there safely in a Covid environment and there was great focus on pure racing. It was great for racing and National Hunt racing in particular. The Irish-English thing is a secondary consideration.

“You speak to racing fans and the appreciation is for good quality horses, no matter where they’re from,” Kavanagh said.

Better prizemoney levels in Ireland has repeatedly been put forward as a reason for such overwhelming Irish dominance that has been building in recent years.

The previous best haul of Irish-trained winners was 19 in 2017.

“We have always put a lot of importance in prizemoney, put a particular amount of work into the race programme to stage a quality programme where 10 per cent of the races on the flat and over jumps are black type races. It allows good horses develop,” Kavanagh said.

“But none of it happens without owners investing and putting horses in training with Irish trainers.

“That’s down to the people, the trainers, riders and staff. The raw material is there with these people. They’re now bearing the fruit of work put in over years,” he added.

Point-to-point

There were 20 Irish-bred winners at last week’s festival and 13 of the 28 winners began their competitive life on the point-to-point circuit here.

Both the British-bred Champion Hurdle winner Honeysuckle, and the Gold Cup hero Minella Indo, won at the Co Cork circuit in Dromahane in 2018.

The current point-to-point season was suspended in January under Government restrictions due to the pandemic. Kavanagh declined to speculate on whether that ban might be lifted next month.

“We have engaged with Government, as a lot of sectors have. April 5th is the next key milestone. We have made the case but Government doesn’t discuss what might not happen

“We believe it can be done in a safe manner. But we have said all the way through we will be guided by the overall Government policy,” he said.

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