Ruby Walsh: HRI need to avoid clashes at pattern level

I believe Enable will defend her King George crown today, writes Ruby Walsh
Ruby Walsh: HRI need to avoid clashes at pattern level

The runners return to the unsaddling area after the Pencil Hill Handicap Hurdle won by Pilbara and Patrick Mullins (light blue) at Cork last night. Picture: Healy Racing

I got it wrong last week when I thought normality would be restored on a competitive level to horse racing today. I simply forgot the Tattersalls Gold Cup, normally run at the Curragh on Irish Guineas weekend at the end of May, has been rearranged for this Sunday, thus putting it in direct competition with this afternoon’s King George V and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.

Some might argue that the Curragh and HRI could have given greater consideration to the overall program in terms of clashes at pattern level, and especially at Group 1 standard, but I am sure that owners and trainers will argue that the race deserves its place in calendar and HRI will say this was the most obvious slot.

We shouldn’t forget, in racing terms, the last lockdown we had, for foot and mouth back in 2001, and how British racing created a replica for the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup at Sandown on the final day of the season that year after racing had resumed.

They were needed but, sadly for competition on a sporting front, the Champion Chase version, known as the Celebration Chase, has kept it place and been elevated over time to Grade 1 level in a direct clash with Punchestown’s older Champion Chase, which is run a maximum of four days apart.

Obviously, the Tattersalls Gold Cup will just return to its May slot next year, but it still makes you wonder about today’s race at Ascot.

The Berkshire venue can simply point the finger at the Curragh as it defends such a low turnout for its mid-summer highlight. That said, a dual Arc winner taking on a pair of Derby winners and a Juddmonte international winner is a pretty competitive fourball, whatever way you spin it.

The biggest omission from today’s race for most people is Magical, who one assumes, had the Tattersalls Gold Cup been run in normal circumstances, would be in the line-up to add real spice to the contest. But, for me, the omission is another UK-based runner.

Three Irish horses travel to the Ascot to take on the darling Enable, and she is a darling, but it also raises a bigger question: which jurisdiction needs the other the most? That can be argued and debated any way you like but the real debate is how to make harmony the answer.

Irish connections want to win the top UK races, British racecourses need the top Irish horses to maintain competition levels at their showcase events and racegoers on both sides of the Irish Sea enjoy travelling to the other for a few days away.

Irish sales companies need English investors to buy Irish horses just as much as English auction houses need Irish vendors to fill up the supply to meet the English demand. British breeders use Irish stallions and vice versa.

Owners come from all the over the world to have horses trained in either country but to compete in both and even more so plenty of Irish people have horses in training in the UK and some of our biggest owners are UK based.

I know this is an extraordinary year, but racing has been here before - and outside of war times too. Racing was in lockdown in the 60s for foot and mouth even though it was only in the UK, Ireland stopped racing and in 2001 again for foot and mouth.

Lessons need to learnt from every experience and surely we learnt this time that less is more. Yet today, between both countries, the action is four afternoon and two evening meetings. Why isn’t it three and three?

I know I talk of racing in two countries as one sport, but maybe that’s because that’s exactly what it was to me, what it is to Aidan O’Brien and many more, and what it needs to become to even more.

Yes, some will always prefer to concentrate on what is local, but what today and tomorrow show is how light we both are at the highest level.

What the resumption of racing has shown is that people are interested in the high-quality fare but If we keep diluting that and competing against each other with fixtures, scheduling and race times, then the push to attract more people to the everyday racing won’t progress.

Brexit is here, but it is time for unity on the racing front. It is all the one product being sold to the same people. Let the competition be on the track and not with who has the best business because neither has enough without the other.

I believe Enable will defend her King George crown today as she is simply better than the opposition - and that is not to insult them either.

Fillies - or mares, as she is now - like Enable don’t come about regularly but, in terms of a monetary gain, she probably needs to be doubled up with Magical tomorrow. Not that I will be investing in that as the sheer sight of both gracing the racecourse will be enough for me, even if I wish it was in the one contest.

Tactics have been a hot topic of late but Frankie Dettori knows more about Ascot and plays races at his tune there as well as he knows his way around his own house, so I don’t have any fears on that front.

Willie Mullins has one runner at Tramore this evening and Andalusia will hopefully make a winning debut over fences under Paul Townend at 5.15, and one to note at York could be Elarqam in the 2.40. Victory could see him progress again to York’s Ebor meeting next month and another tilt at the Juddmonte International.

Galway starts next and I will be back Wednesday morning before the jumping starts there but, on the level Monday, Sharjah will bid to break Patrick Mullins’ duck in the Monday night feature amateur handicap and Mount Leinster could bring up a double for him in the closing maiden

More in this section