Fairyhouse’s Easter Monday programme needs urgent revamping

YOU would have to say Monday’s Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse was a bit disappointing.

The race itself was fine, producing an excellent spectacle and a first-class winner on the day in Hear The Echo.

But, overall, the feeling was the racing was less than satisfactory, as was the attendance and the level of wagering.

The crowd was marginally over 15,000 and that has to set the alarm bells ringing. The economy appears to be very much in downturn and there is no reason why our sport should escape.

When the biggest day in National Hunt racing in Ireland can only attract that sort of numbers then there has to be cause for concern.

Perhaps, you can argue there were extenuating circumstances. The National was run last year on April 9 and was probably a much more suitable date.

Nevertheless, racecourses should be helping themselves and this National programme left a lot to be desired.

The fact only two horses contested the first race was a bad start. That had nothing to do with Fairyhouse, of course, but just shows decent prizes like this are no great deal in a country awash with prizemoney. Whether it will always be so remains to be seen!

Kalderon landed almost €30,000 for easing past Earth Magic at the last and Earth Magic’s connections pocketed over €7,000 for their trouble.

Two conditions hurdle races, neither very exciting, and the National were next, but after that it had little or nothing to recommend it.

Last year there was a novice chase on the card, won by Siberion, and the layers went 3-1 the field.

Who was the genius who decided a beginners chase was more attractive? A beginners chase is the last contest you should have on an Easter Monday.

Most trainers have no desire to win these races right now, because we are just a couple of weeks short of the end of the season and they want to retain the novice status of their horses. Get rid of this race, it has no positive part to play.

Toss in a moderate novice handicap chase, an impossible-to-solve handicap hurdle and a point-to-point bumper and you really are in quicksand.

No wonder the attendance was so low and the betting with the bookmakers and tote down hundreds of thousands of euro.

Grand National day at Fairyhouse has its fair share of hardship, especially for anyone travelling a relatively long journey.

To make the effort you need to believe the racing will be of a reasonably high quality and, hugely important for lots of patrons, you feel you actually have a chance of winning.

If I didn’t have to head to Fairyhouse on Monday would I still have gone? Not in a million years. How many more felt the same way? Fairyhouse has promised to look at what was on offer and, at least, that’s a start.

BESIDES the smashing display by Hear The Echo at Fairyhouse, the retirement of Conor O’Dwyer was the other highlight.

O’Dwyer was visibly moved by the reaction he got from his fellow jockeys and the public, but I cannot think of anyone in the game who deserved the tributes more.

I got to know Conor really well during his Imperial Call days and he wrote a column for the Examiner for a couple of years in the 90’s.

I used to ghost-write it and, most of the time, it went particularly smoothly. There was one occasion, however...! All efforts to find Conor through the course of a day failed, until finally he answered his phone at about 8.00 at night.

He wasn’t easy to understand, having spent some hours, about eighteen as I recall, playing poker and pool and flicking back the odd drink in a hostelry in Naas.

The column duly appeared the following morning, a complete figment of the ghost-writer’s imagination.

It was, however, a joy to be associated with the man and I don’t think I ever got as much pleasure out of any race as Imperial Call’s success in the Gold Cup of ’96. Conor and Fergie Sutherland were people who were simply easy to like.

AT Fairyhouse on Tuesday, Schindlers Hunt bolted in under a fair old weight in what looked a fiercely competitive handicap chase.

One’s immediate reaction was to think of Master Minded and that demoltion job he did on the opposition in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

It is almost frightening to think he beat Schindlers Hunt 36 lengths into fourth place. I mean, what sort of five-year-old is this?

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