PAT KEANE: Rivals making hay while Willie Mullins is away (but not for long)

Anyone glancing through the entries for National Hunt racing in Ireland over the last few weeks may have noticed the lack of activity on the part of Willie Mullins.

Of course, he has made plenty of entries along the way, but they have involved horses who have been racing through the summer and are distinctly second division, or worse, when it comes to the Mullins stable.

Other trainers have been far quicker into action and we have already seen some potentially high-class horses in action.

Don Cossack, for instance, is the highest rated chaser in the country and Gordon Elliott didn’t half have him ready to make a successful return at Punchestown on October 15.

Other really decent horses that have made their seasonal debuts are No More Heroes, Fine Article, Sizing John, Disko, and Snow Falcon.

The point is, though, that not a single one of what might be regarded as the Mullins big guns has even been afforded an entry.

So, while Mullins, as usual, takes his time and plays the long game, all the way to France next summer, it makes sense for others to make hay while the battalions wait to be called into action.

Right now National Hunt racing is reasonably competitive, notwithstanding Punchestown on Tuesday, but the big fear is that it will change dramatically over the coming months.

There is no doubt that the National Hunt game in this country, in contrast to the flat, has a seriously lop-sided appearance.

Ballydoyle-Coolmore is a powerful machine, but the likes of Bolger, Weld and plenty of others ensure that they never, ever, have it all their own way. It’s good for Ballydoyle-Coolmore and particularly good for Irish racing.

But recent seasons have taught us that Mullins has so much ammunition at his disposal that the rest of the National hunt trainers combined are often left fighting an uneven battle.

If we have a series of uncompetitive laps of honour for long odds-on Mullins inmates through the winter then that will not be good for punters.

There are always the handicaps I hear you scream. Handicaps are popular with small staking punters. They offer decent prices, if you find a winner, and a good return for a relatively small wager.

But for those who take the game seriously - that is those hoping to make a profit every year - then handicaps are a necessary evil, essentially to be despised.

The discerning punter concentrates on non-handicaps, well aware that the price is likely to be tight.

That’s not a problem, but once you move into odds-on territory, seriously odds-on in lots of cases, then that’s no good.

This weekend there is buckets of decent racing, but Mullins has again failed to make any significant entries.

Indeed, he had no entry at all for this afternoon’s €84,000 to the winner Grade 1 Jnwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal.

Soon, however, he will begin to show his considerable hand and once his horses start to run then there will be some flow.

For other trainers, it will be a bit like being in the middle of a tsunami. It remains to be seen just what it will mean for punters?

There has been some money for Dermot Weld-trained horses of late and it certainly appears as if a major hitter or two are big supporters of the yard.

A case in point is Weld’s Monocle, who was backed as if defeat was out of the question in a maiden at Navan recently.

He went off a desperately tight 11-10 favourite, in what looked a difficult enough contest, and could only manage seventh.

That at least was only a maiden, but a more surprising case was Weld’s Ebediyn in a Listed event at Leopardstown last Sunday. Ebediyn won a maiden on his debut at Galway, but it was a race that hadn’t worked out especially well.

Nevertheless, the big hitters were out in force again and he left the gate a ridiculous 5-4 market-leader.

And you know the rest, with Ebediyn getting well beaten - fifth of seven behind Jim Bolger’s Moonlight Magic.

Bolger doesn’t seem to have any big hitters interested in his horses and Moonlight Magic was a 5-1 shot.

His credentials, you could argue, were just as good as Ebediyn’s, given he too was the winner of a maiden, at Cork.

Remember American politican, Donald Rumsfeld, saying the following: “There are known knowns. There are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know.

“But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.”

Rumsfeld, of course, wasn’t talking about the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland tonight, but he might as well have been.

It’s the end of a long campaign and this Breeders’ Cup is no different to those that have gone before. It is, like Rumsfeld’s words, a real puzzle.

Enjoy the spectacle, but keep your hands where they belong - in your pocket.


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