Davy Russell reflects on initiatives in Irish racing and ones to watch
WITH the end of the National Hunt season, we can reflect with pride at just how high the calibre of horse in Ireland is at the moment.
The finale, the Punchestown Festival, was The Willie Mullins Show. You’d think Henry de Bromhead would carry on through with the same dominance but it was really only Honeysuckle who starred – it’s unbelievable how one trainer’s fortunes can completely turn around like that. But isn’t the filly spectacular? She was absolute dynamite when taking her tally to 12 wins from 12 races now.
In 2013, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association (ITBA) recognised that fillies needed a bit of help. They introduced the National Hunt Fillies Bonus Scheme whereby they pay out €5,000 (around £4,300) if any eligible horse wins a mares’ bumper, maiden hurdle or beginners’ steeplechase.
That’s an opportunity to win an extra €15,000, which covers your training fees for a good bit of the season.
The initiative has been really successful in getting more fillies to run, which has benefited the whole industry. Owners can now have a valuable horse to go to war with, and keeping them in training gives us all a chance to see how good they are – and there are some seriously good mares racing at the moment.
Paul Townend saw off the challenge from Rachael Blackmore to take his fourth jockeys championship, despite injuring his foot a couple of weeks before Punchestown. His first ride back was on Chacun Pour Soi in the Champion Chase, which was an outstanding performance from both horse and rider.
They rode him completely differently from Cheltenham, where he finished third; they took the bull by the horns and made all the running with a lot of pace on, making it a truly run championship race which was a joy to watch.
There was good competition from English horses at Punchestown, with trainers including Paul Nicholls and Harry Fry sending out winners, and amateur jockey David Maxwell took the Champions Hunter Chase in great style.
A DIFFERENT CLASS
GOING in my notebook as one to watch next season is the Willie Mullins-trained Dysart Dynamo, who won the bumpers at Clonmel and Punchestown and looks to be a very smart horse.
Jockey Jordan Gainford is really stamping himself – he took the leap of faith to turn professional this year and he’s reaping the rewards with a Cheltenham Festival winner on The Shunter then he rode a treble at Down Royal recently – he looks a different class.
Then from the training ranks, one name will be familiar as Emmet Mullins is the nephew of champion trainer Willie, and he has enjoyed winners at Punchestown, Cheltenham, a Grade Two at Kempton and his horses ran well at Aintree this season.
From the other side of the Irish Sea I’m impressed by the new champion jockey Harry Skelton while his brother Dan has really stamped his authority on the game.
A WELL-DESERVED BREAK
ONE of the best new initiatives in Irish racing is that jump jockeys can now enjoy a proper holiday lasting 24 days. The eight meetings between 7 and 30 June will be restricted to conditionals and jockeys who have ridden fewer than 15 winners in the past year.
It’s a fantastic opportunity for them and it means the busier lads and the senior jockeys get the chance to rest up and get their bodies back in shape without worrying about championships or your rivals getting an advantage on you.
Meanwhile, all is looking good as I recover from my broken neck – everything is healed how it needs to be, so I just need to find the right date to go back at it all again and I can’t wait.
Before then it’s sales season, starting at Doncaster, where everybody will be looking to stock up, then we’re also into festival territory with the likes of Killarney, Listowel and Galway.
Overall, it’s been a marvellous year and all credit to the medical staff in the industry for keeping the whole thing safe and allowing us to carry on. We’ve a lot to be proud of.
You can also read this exclusive column in the 13 May issue of Horse & Hound.
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