The Irish question
After a bit of an absence, explained below, Mike Deasy’s Of Course column returns to look at Ireland’s Festival dominance, Rachel Blackmore’s outstanding performance, healthy TV viewing figures and the lingering odour from last year’s Festival
Whilst Ireland were doing a demolition job on England in Saturday’s Six Nations rugby international, the dust was barely settling on the drubbing British jump racing received from the Irish at the Cheltenham Festival.
The post-mortem is likely to be continuing when we approach next year’s four-day spectacular. But some of the core issues to be addressed have been identified, not least the Irish having a better programme in place for their top horses matched by more attractive prize-money.
In Britain, a race programme which fails to attract the elite and carries prize money which favours horses of lesser ability doesn’t create an environment for developing top horses to win the best races.
Indeed, many top British owners now buy and train their horses in Ireland because the rewards are better and the prospects of plundering Cheltenham are greater.
But don’t hold your breath for anything radical to address the situation, racing doesn’t do radical.
On the upside, the success of the Irish meant that Rachel Blackmore gave the sport its own shot in the arm after the preceding weeks of negative publicity. And she won her races with both tactical nous and a steeliness which not only made her the best jockey over the four days but also confirms she is the best day in, day out.
And, with an ITV Racing audience culminating in a peak viewing figure on Gold Cup Day of 1.9m, the sport’s best was seen by the biggest Festival TV audiences since 2008.
That this figure was achieved is very satisfactory. Whilst not being complacent about the appalling images recently revealed on social media, I think racing, as it often does, was probably beating itself up to a greater extent than was maybe necessary. People were not put off and watched the sport in big numbers.
But at least the authorities dealt with the situation quickly, efficiently and correctly.
Something which has lingered in the air is the odour of holding last year’s Festival on the eve of the first lockdown.
ITV racing put together a report shown on the Festival’s first day where the overriding message was, with the great benefit of hindsight, that the meeting should not have taken place.
Compiled by the estimable Gabriel Clarke, it largely centred on the views of Piers Morgan and Nick Rust, former BHA chief. The even-handedness was such that views were unlikely to be changed.
What racing needs to ask is why weren’t the same criticisms levelled at holding rugby internationals on the preceding weekend and football matches during the week? The sport could well have been on the receiving end of people having a pop at what they perceive as an elitist sport – an easy target.
So, I’m not sure what the purpose of the piece was. And, if I dare reach the same conclusion, I struggle with what’s achieved by ITV having Francesca Cumani co-hosting a prestigious jumps meeting.
A few weeks back, fellow Hub scribbler Gary McKenzie wrote that racing and rugby’s forthcoming Six Nations were going to help towards maintaining a degree of sanity as the current lockdown dragged on.
It was a sentiment that had special resonance for me as I had not long been admitted to London’s Guys hospital due the sudden malfunction of my kidneys.
Racing most certainly was a welcome relief against a backdrop of anxiety and considerable discomfort as various procedures and operations were undertaken.
Fortunately, progress was and continues to be made and tomorrow I’m due been discharged, with the kidneys reverting to something like normal performance
At one point dialysis was promulgated as a long-term prospect. For those who don’t know, that necessitates three visits a week to hospital for sessions lasting four hours. Fortunately, it hasn’t come to that.
Needless to say, it’s both humbling and awe-inspiring to be looked after by the NHS. There have easily been over 100 people who have been part of my care and treatment – most I’ve seen whilst others work behind the scenes analysing blood tests, medication and the like.
A proposed 1% pay increase for nurses makes me despise this government even more.
Racing was an undoubted diversion and there has been cracking sport to watch. But there were also events that were not so uplifting, chief amongst them the death of Khalid Abdulla and the Gordon Elliot scandal.
Energy levels were just not there to offer my thoughts, but Mr McKenzie stepped in did the Hub proud with his tribute to the creator of Juddmonte and a level-headed response to Elliot’s astonishing moment of madness.
I can honestly say that the actions of Gordon Elliot left me depressed.