Pat Keane: HRI’s handling of coronavirus has been exemplary

Horse Racing Ireland has taken plenty of stick over many years, but you have to praise the bridge as you cross it and there is no doubt their recent handling of Irish racing, in the face of this cursed coronavirus, has been nothing short of exemplary.

When the coronavirus eventually disappears, I think we will all look back and wonder how Cheltenham was allowed to go ahead.

Thousands of Irish punters made the usual pilgrimage and were subjected to a barrage of criticism on their return. That had to be a consideration for HRI when arriving at a decision on Wednesday, as to whether racing should continue behind closed doors.

It would have been easy to be swayed by some public opinion, but HRI showed great courage and did exactly the right thing by Irish racing, while strictly adhering to government and health expert guidelines.

Much of that opinion, both on mainstream and social media, has been so ill-informed and idiotic as to be basically embarrassing.

The experts clearly believe that racing behind closed doors, with very few on site, at least for the moment, is little or no threat to people’s safety which has, obviously, to be the main priority.

Racing isn’t just a sport, it is a huge industry, and keeping people employed and drawing an income is absolutely vital, if it is at all possible. Racecourses want to race because the media-rights money they get, at least for the vast majority of meetings in this country, is far more lucrative than that provided by attendances.

The likes of the Punchestown and Galway festivals, of course, would paint an altogether different picture, on the basis they attract huge crowds.

HRI formulated a seriously impressive plan and have to be congratulated for doing so. No evening or double meetings, with just one meeting a day, to reduce impact on resources, were excellent ideas.

Owners not being allowed to attend meetings is no big deal and no overseas runners permitted to run was entirely predictable.

There are lots and lots of other protocols which will also be in place as well and there really isn’t much more HRI could do.

No one knows the end game for coronavirus and just how long racing will continue in its current form. Will the Irish Grand National meeting go ahead, the Punchestown festival, the Irish 1000 and 2000 Guineas, or even the Irish Derby? There are simply no answers to those questions at the moment and it is a case of taking it day by day. But right now, the show remains on the road and that’s just terrific.

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WELL, the Cheltenham dust has well and truly settled and I still cannot get my head around the fact that both Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott each trained seven winners.

I would have been at least mildly surprised had one managed it, but when the final contest was run on the Friday evening the facts were simple, between them they had won half of the races, 14 of the 28.

Admittedly, Mullins had luck on his side with Burning Victory in the Triumph Hurdle, because she was miles behind Goshen when that horse and rider, Jamie Moore, departed company after getting onto an entirely different wavelength at the final flight.

The other side of the coin, of course, is Mullins might have seen his Benie Des Dieux beat Honeysuckle in the Mares’ Hurdle in different circumstances. In any case these things have a habit of balancing themselves out!

What was rather remarkable about the Mullins tally was that, despite the defeat of Benie Des Dieux, six of his seven winners came in non-handicaps.

I must confess to feeling that if Mullins or Elliott was to get to seven, they would have had to enjoy lots of success in said handicaps.

That was exactly the way it worked out for Elliott who, at least on the surface, did not appear to have a particularly strong hand heading to the festival.

But he won four handicaps with Aramax, Sire Du Berlais, Milan Native and Chosen Mate, to go with Envoi Allen, Ravenhill and Samcro.

Indeed, Elliott was seriously unlucky not to land a fifth handicap with Column Of Fire, who was looking all over a winner when falling at the last in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.

In the face of a ferocious Irish onslaught, Nicky Henderson had four successes, which left a paltry ten other prizes to be shared among just nine trainers, including two for Henry de Bromhéad.

Paul Nicholls, currently, second in the British Trainers’ Championship, hardly got a look in with his 1-2 with Politologue and Dynamite Dollars in the Champion Chase his only bright spot. It might have been a total blackout for him had Altior and Chacun Pour Soi been able to run in the race.

Top British trainers who failed to get on the scoresheet were Dan Skelton, Philip Hobbs and Colin Tizzard.

As well as having seven winners, Mullins also had seven seconds and six thirds and brought home massive prizemoney of £1,247,311.

Elliott had seven winners, seven seconds and four thirds and his reward for the week was £664,652, more modest than Mullins, but still a rather healthy return.

Mullins’ extraordinary four days moved his total prizemoney in Britain to £1,421,679, which saw the Irish champion make a giant leap up to fourth in the British trainers’ championship, with only Henderson, Nicholls and Skelton in front of him.

Oh, and one other thing, let’s hear no more rubbish about how badly Irish horses are handicapped across channel.

Ireland won more than its fair share of such races at Cheltenham, five in all, and it would surely have been six had Column Of Fire not fallen, as we said earlier on.

On top of that Sire Du Berlais led home a 1-2-3 for Ireland in the Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle and it was the exact same story with Chosen Mate beating two other Irish horses in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase.

And then there was Mullins’ only non-handicap winner, Saint Roi, in the County Hurdle, with the first four all Irish-trained.

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