Bookmakers the only winners at Fairyhouse

Spent a good few hours last Saturday morning studying the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse.

As they passed the post on Monday, my first thoughts were: you really could have been doing something far more productive with your Saturday.

Wading through 30 runners is a stiff task, there are so many things to be considered and all of the time it is very much in the back of your mind that finding the proverbial needle in a haystack would offer less of a challenge.

The more one looked at the race the more, in many ways, confusing it became. You didn’t need to be a genius to work out that handicapper Noel O’Brien had left little cause for optimism for anyone thinking they had a good chance of finding the winner.

When the study was finished it was quite obvious there were far too many live possibilities for comfort.

There were a number of horses, however, you felt safe enough putting a line through and right near the top of that list had to be the eventual winner, Liberty Counsel.

Bookmakers will tell you that the betting-ring — at least most of the time — is now dead, if not quite buried, destroyed by the exchanges.

But they were there in their droves on Monday and, when the National was over, you just knew why they believe that sooner or later they will get a result that makes it all worthwhile.

Because, don’t have the slightest doubt about it, at least some of them got enough in this race to keep them going for a fair old time.

Liberty Counsel was returned at 50-1 and it wouldn’t have been any great surprise if that were 150-1.

In retrospect, I suppose, you could make some sort of a case for her, on the basis of beating Raz De Maree by four and a half lengths over three miles and a furlong, on good ground, at Kilbeggan in September.

But she went up 10lbs for that and then finished third over hurdles at Gowran Park, off a mark 17lbs below her chase rating, before pulling up in the Munster National at Limerick on October 14.

She then wasn’t seen again until reappearing at the Cheltenham festival last month, trailing in a well-beaten 13th of 17 finishers in the Kim Muir.

Travelling to Cheltenham, before taking on the three miles and five furlongs of the Irish National, just 18 days later, would hardly be regarded as the ideal preparation.

Add in that Liberty Counsel, with all due respect to those involved, hardly had what could be regarded as high-profile connections in trainer Dot Love and 5lbs claiming rider Ben Dalton.

But that is the beauty of racing, especially National Hunt racing, that the small man, or woman, can sometimes kick all of the big boys out of the way.

I’ve heard it said that Liberty Counsel and Lion Na Bearnai, winning at 33-1 last year, do nothing to enhance the reputation of the National.

But you can’t be having that argument, because these things go in cycles and when people pay to take part then they are more than entitled to win.

Norton’s Coin won the Gold Cup at 100-1 for Sirrell Griffiths in 1990 and there was never a moment when we though the world was going to end.

Anyway, Noel O’Brien has decided that Liberty Counsel should now go up another 10lbs and now stands proudly on a mark on 138.

So do you want to be with her the next time she appears in a handicap hurdle? She is currently rated 115 at that game.

Finally, cannot leave Fairyhouse on Monday without referring to the unnecessary noise that was foisted on the public throughout the day.

Some of it really could only be described as asinine drivel. During a meeting at the Curragh recently a colleague texted me from the track to say: “The noise here is as bad as ever.” We had more of the same through the winter at Leopardstown.

It is surely only a matter of time before dancing girls are employed, perhaps a couple of comedians strategically placed to entertain the drunks and who will be the first to go with a couple of clowns? Now clowns really would be appropriate.

Later this month Punchestown promises to host its greatest ever festival, with National Hunt racing on a massive high in this country.

Will someone in authority at Punchestown grasp the nettle and adopt the Cheltenham policy?

By all means have as much razzmatazz as you want from early morning, until the start of the first race.

But, as they do at Cheltenham, then tell those who love the sound of their own voices to immediately shut up once proceedings get under way.

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Saturday, November 28, 2020

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