When racing was over at Leopardstown last Sunday, I headed off for a walk and, on my way back, met an old friend, who parked his vehicle for a brief chat.
Now he is a fan of National Hunt racing, regards the flat as an irritation, and I was interested to hear his views on what had unfolded earlier.
“It was boring’’, he said. Imagine that, we had just seen Faugheen and Douvan, horses that seemed to have just about everyone on television and in the newspapers reaching for superlatives, and our intrepid pal felt that what he had seen over many hours had been “boring.’’
And do you know what, he had a point. Perhaps, boring is too strong a word, but his thinking is still easily understandable.
I know we heard on television, more than once, the public had come out to see horses that were unbackable and it was, seemingly, to their credit.
And we are well aware horse racing isn’t just about betting, but it does play a massive part in its attraction all of the same.
Those who believe otherwise are simply deluding themselves.
For most followers of racing the thrill of backing a winner, and showing a profit, is hugely important.
Take that away from them and the product is obviously diluted.
And that’s what the card at Leopardstown did, along with many others so far this campaign, it offered the average punter very few opportunities to play.
It is well known that I detest handicaps and, as I have said here many times before, regard them as a necessary evil.
My firm belief is that a punter who regularly bets in handicaps has little or no chance of showing a profit over time.
So let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that our average punter joins me in giving those type of races the swerve.
That then immediately ruled out the two such contests that were on the Leopardstown programme.
They were won by a 16-1 chance and a 10-1 shot and so we can claim to immediately getting a return on our discipline.
The first event was a maiden hurdle, with plenty of runners, but no depth, and I think most of us felt it was destined for Jessica Harrington’s Don’t Touch It.
He won alright, but at 8-11 was unattractive and no good to Mr Average.
Douvan, in the Arkle, was 1-14 to beat two opponents, who hardly merit an entry at Cheltenham so, from a betting point of view, that was a complete non-event.
The Irish Champion Hurdle, won so impressively by Faugheen (30-100), was also largely a non-event when it came to betting.
The day ended with a Willie Mullins-import from the point-to-point fields in England leaving the gate at 4-7.
Now again Mr Average couldn’t play at such prohibitive odds and, realistically, couldn’t bet against the horse either, on the basis he just had no idea what he was taking on.
So, in my humble opinion, that left us with just one race at Leopardstown, a Grade 2 novice hurdle. I had a wager here, taking 5-1 each-way - two places - on Saturday night about Sandra Hughes’ Acapella Bourgeois.
He performed as well, if not better, than I expected, but proved no match for Willie Mullins’ clearly rapidly improving A Toi Phil, finishing seven lengths second.
That was my only contribution to punting during the entire day and, I suspect, I was a long way from being alone in such behaviour.
We house an unprecedented number of top National Hunt horses in this country and there are a small handful of people having a great time.
But that cannot mask the deep rotted problems we now have and the increasingly uncompetitive nature of our game.
Racing is completely funded by government money and it’s just as well, because if it was depending on betting the industry would starve.
The bookmakers’ figures at Leopardstown were shocking. They held just €487,678, down a massive €300,451 on last year.
And the attendance at Leopardstown left plenty to be desired as well, at 7,533 and down 683 on a year ago.
I spoke this week to one bookmaker - his heart is in the National Hunt game - who stood at Leopardstown, showing a modest profit, and he pulled no punches. “It (Leopardstown) was bullshit,’’ he said.
“People go racing to see a spectacle, to see a buckle. Faugheen and Douvan are brilliant horses and it’s not their fault, but what went on at Leopardstown was an absolute joke. I can’t wait for the Curragh, at least we will have competitive racing.’’
And, of course, he is right about both of those horses, who basically live in a different stratosphere to anyone prepared to take them on.
Willie Mullins did his best to save the Champion Hurdle, by running all three of his inmates, and could not have done any more.
Everyone was raving about Douvan’s display, rightly so, and his superb jumping was simply a joy.
There is a certain amount of satisfaction in watching an artist at work, of course, but still there are only a limited number of exhibition rounds one can stomach.
I mean I enjoy watching Messi playing for Barcelona, but how many would turn up to see him out on the pitch on his own?
Our driver on Sunday was bored watching Leopardstown. He would more than qualify as your typical lover of National Hunt racing and his view should not be easily dismissed.
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