Ruby Walsh: Short-priced winners simply don't engage the racing public 

The victories of odds-on favourites Sir Gerhard and Teahupoo at Gowran Park on Thursday were greeted with silence 
Ruby Walsh: Short-priced winners simply don't engage the racing public 

TEA-RIFIC: Teahupoo was mightily impressive in winning the Galmoy Hurdle but the fact he wasn't a backable price meant his success was met with indifference by many of those in attendance at Gowran Park. Pic: Healy Racing

The crowds flocked into Gowran Park on Thursday afternoon as they always do for the Thyestes Chase card and the usual mix of regulars assembled en masse for Kilkenny's premier race meeting.

The age demographic from young to old was noticeable, and the increasing number of older teenagers, like at Leopardstown over Christmas, must be taken as a positive. Perhaps it's just the day out that attracts them, but, in my book, of all the promotions racecourses have tried, student days have been the biggest winner.

Perhaps the theories are correct: Attract people from as early in their life as possible, and they will keep coming. Being brutally honest, however, after a short period of time, a day at the races is a form of torture for most young children. So little happens in the three hours they are there, and when you have seen one horse through small eyes, you have seen them all.

For parents, the accessible playground in their locality is as appealing as the run-of-the-mill racecourses provide, and they are cheaper and easier ways to entertain kids who require constant supervision.

The drive to attract students is a different ball game and encouraging a day at the races as social entertainment seems to catch the imagination of a growing number. Their spend is not massive, and such a mass gathering of social youth carries its perils, but some part of the racing bug is biting them because more and more seem to be attending our more important meetings.

There is no doubt that the social day brings people, but it was noticeable to me on Thursday, when Sir Gerhard and Teahupoo cleared the last and strode to the line, how little anyone cheered or clapped two exciting horses.

I didn't make it back to the winner's enclosure to see if they were applauded there, but the silence as they passed the winning post surprised me.

I didn't expect a massive roar because neither horse was anything near a backable price, but Teahupoo had just proven he stays three miles and immediately went favourite for the Stayers’ Hurdle, while Sir Gerhard overcame a howler of a mistake at fence three, proved he could deal with that, and still bolted in.

Two highly talented horses had just thrown their hat in the ring to be potential Cheltenham winners with impressive displays.

Both have a swagger, but the hum of the grandstand was one of a job done — nothing to see here, we expected that. Perhaps everyone did, and the betting would suggest so, but it also proved how vital a bet or a financial interest is for horse racing attendees, and how each individual winning or losing affects the atmosphere.

Teahupoo was the one I expected the crowd to appreciate more. For a horse so young to have downed Honeysuckle and Klassical Dream at Fairyhouse and then win so easily over Thursday's extended trip, I expected a buzz as he strode to the line. Perhaps there was in the stand below the last fence, but in the one by the winning post, there was silence.

The purist in me would love to believe people solely come racing to admire brilliant equine athletes, but they don't. More than the majority attend or watch because of racing's value as a gambling product.

The revenue generated by people gambling is the most significant contributor to the media rights income which racecourses receive for selling the product people watch. A social day out has been built around that, but the majority who flood through the gates, flick on the TV, or open an app, hope a flutter will bolster their disposable income.

Upwards of 70% of that media rights package is the actual value of the gambling product to the bookmakers. That revenue stream keeps the racecourses open and functioning, but it's not all worth the same and requires significant UK interest to maintain its level.

With the gambling sector facing a considerable overhaul in the UK and Ireland, one hopes our racecourses can see the wood from the trees.

Saturday's nine-race card in Cheltenham is full of household names. Energumene takes his chance in the rescheduled Clarence House Chase and should have too much class for the new kid on the block, Edwardstone. November’s loss is January’s gain and the rescheduled cross-country chase, at 12.40pm, is a cracker. Snow Leopardess makes plenty of appeal carrying 10-8.

In the Cotswold Chase, at 2.25pm, Protektorat appears for the first time since winning the Betfair Chase, but Noble Yeats will give him all he wants of it, and this race could come back across the Irish Sea even if the prize money stays with his owners in the UK. Paisley Park is the one to beat in the Cleeve Hurdle.

Last Saturday's cancellation of Haydock means Epatante goes to Doncaster at 2.05pm, and Aidan Coleman can't be in two places at the one time, so Nico De Bonville takes over on JP McManus's mare.

She is yet another star name appearing Saturday, and Sunday at Naas you have Bob Olinger and Echoes In Rain going head to head in the Limestone Lad. Great action for the end of January.

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