Uncompetitive national hunt racing proving a real turn-off for punters

Wasn’t the racing in Ireland last weekend desperately disappointing? What is happening in the National Hunt game in this country is simply turning punters off.

Uncompetitive national hunt racing proving a real turn-off for punters

The problem is that Willie Mullins is so far ahead of the rest the whole thing has just become overly lopsided.

You can’t blame Mullins, who has only one responsibility and that is to do the best he can for every horse in his yard.

Nearly all of the big owners want to be with him and, as he has repeatedly shown is the best in the business, where else would you want to have your horses?

The talent he has at his disposal is nothing short of staggering and the fact a number of his inmates figure near the top of the betting for many of the Cheltenham festival races tells its own story.

The bottom line here at home is that Mullins is having a great time, a great season, again, but punters are increasingly becoming cold on a sport that offers them, at least in some cases, little or no value.

You will often hear it said that racing isn’t all about betting. Of course it isn’t, but it is a massive factor just the same.

Fairyhouse last Saturday and Naas on Sunday delivered far less than might have been expected. There were three odds-on favourites at Fairyhouse, two of them supplied by team Mullins.

But Naas was far worse. In theory this should have been a good card, with three Grade 2s on the programme. The reality was that it was a bit of a bore.

It really was deflating to watch Mullins’ Mozoltov (2-13) doing a solo - he won by 35 lengths - against just two rivals in a novice chase for a first prize of €26,000.

Folsom Blue was rated 16lbs inferior to Mozoltov, while Summer Star had no rating, so it would have been ridiculous for either off those two horses to even attempt to get near the winner. Wisely, they didn’t!

Then Mullins’ Twinlight went off at 4-11 in another three-horse affair and the fact he finished third only added to the farce.

But this sort of uncompetitive racing has been with us all season and here is a sample, for instance, of what has been on offer since the turn of the year.

The following are inmates of the Mullins camp, starting with Un De Sceaux. At Gowran Park in February he won at 1-14, which followed on his success at 1-12 at Navan.

Lovely to see a proper horse running, of course, but such races are a total waste of time for punters and bookmakers alike.

Then there was Arvika Ligeonniere (2-7) at Punchestown, Abbyssial (2-9), Gowran Park, Vautour (1-4), Punchestown, and Briar Hill (1-3) at Naas.

On the flat Aidan O’Brien, with the backing of Coolmore, will face into the coming flat campaign with easily the most powerful hand.

But he is unlikely to dominate to anything like the same extent as Mullins, and will face fierce opposition from the likes of Jim Bolger, Dermot Weld, John Oxx, David Wachman and, indeed, plenty of others as well. Chances are we are set for a cracking flat season.

You could not describe this current National Hunt campaign as anything more than adequate.

Mullins’ hold on the National Hunt scene has become almost frightening. He has trained 157 winners so far this season, with Gordon Elliott next on 49. That just about reveals all we need to know.

What will be the outcome of the Philip Fenton-anabolic steroids saga? Until the court hands down its verdict we won’t know the answer.

What we do know, however, is that this is doing nothing for the image of racing. Firstly, Gigginstown, in the form of both Michael and Eddie O’Leary, gave unqualified support to Fenton and intend running their and Fenton’s Last Instalment in the Gold Cup.

Then Barry Connell dropped something of a bombshell into the mix when declaring his horses with Fenton, including the well-regarded The Tullow Tank, would not go to Cheltenham and wouldn’t run again until the court case has been concluded.

The Turf Club said that they could do nothing until the court case was finished, but the British Horseracing Authority was having none of that and the have already come over and drug tested Fenton’s Cheltenham horses.

There are two aspects of the BHA behaviour that are most interesting.

Firstly, they have indicated that even if Fenton’s charges are found to be clean they will not automatically be allowed to run at Cheltenham.

They further revealed, rather intriguingly, that hair samples, which presumably they took this week, can detect banned substances for a greater period of time than either blood or urine samples. This really is an unholy mess, which may have a twist of two to come yet.

One of the reasons Willie Mullins is massively successful is his uncanny ability to improve horses.

The relatively modest Isleofhopendreams is a classic example. He had his first run for Mullins at Thurles eight days ago, in what had the appearances of a wide-open 18-runner handicap hurdle.

He should have been a 20-1 shot, arriving off an absence of 671 days and having failed to win in six outings for Henrietta Knight.

But those in the know backed him as if defeat was out of the question and they were right.

He went off at 4-5 and won on the bridle, by ten lengths.

Isleofhopendreams ran off a mark of 86 and, on what he had achieved, certainly wasn’t worthy of much more. He goes up by 24lbs in the future.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

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