January 28th 2016
I wrote the following piece in response to Will Hayler’s splendid article on sportinglife.com about the effect of Willie Mullins current domination of our sport.
The four days of the Cheltenham Festival are the most eagerly anticipated four days racing of either code in Britain and Ireland. Why? Every horse is a trier and it is the best racing against the best. Hours would be spent pouring over the form book trying to find a couple of winners to pay for the four days betting whilst looking forward to cheering home the legends of the jumping game whether they carried your money or not. Cheltenham 2016 has polarised the two extremes of enjoyment National Hunt racing can bring, the sheer joy of horse and rider in perfect harmony negotiating a series of obstacles at full tilt and the handicap snip you spotted in November hacking up at 16/1!! Why? Two words, Willie Mullins.
Willie Mullins is brilliant at his job. However how can you solely blame one man because he has assembled a complete team from the likes of Harold Kirk who buys the protégé’s, to a top quintet of jockeys in the definitive horseman Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend and the Mullins boys, nephews Danny and David and his own son and heir apparent Patrick, to his staff at Closutton? Willie’s easy going manner makes him media friendly and the likes of Rich Ricci, the O’Learys with Gigginstown and the Wylies are used to winning and have the money to give themselves the best chance of doing so.
But in my opinion there are three other culprits who have questions to answer.
In no particular order the first are the bookmaking fraternity. The Mullins fourfold on the Tuesday at less than 10/1 is a mug bet. I know it, they know it, but they need to generate the interest hence Mullins and his four Horses of the Apocalypse. Any horse trained by Willie Mullins will be shorter than its form warrants and that skews the market immediately. The layers need to get creative, take the four out of the equation and lets have some serious without markets for instance.
The second group are the rest of the jockeys and trainers. I can’t believe the English are just going to roll over and let this happen. Are the jockeys just going to let Ruby have his way in front, choose HIS stride, run at HIS pace, quicken when HE wants to? Most of the Irish already do! Are they all going to ride for a gallant second? Are the trainers going to give him the Championship races to try to find “easier” targets? Just one example, Smad Place. He won the Hennessy by going from flagfall, getting in a great rhythm and stuffed a good field by fifteen lengths. He has twice finished third in a World Hurdle yet he is down to run in the RyanAir. Why isn’t he putting it up to them in the Gold Cup? Take a look at last season’s Cheltenham bumper. The first four home were Moon Racer, Modus, Wait for Me and Yanworth, all trained this side of the Irish sea yet Bellshill was 10th and Up for Review was 18th. Is there a chance these Irish novices of Mullins may be over hyped?
Thirdly it is us, the punter. Two groups here and I’m going to be age-ist. The younger brigade who got into betting via football just want to have winners, are used to sixfolds+ and couldn’t tell the difference between 4/11 and 5/6. The layers must love them. They have no concept of value. The older horse orientated punter is shaking his head at the thought of backing horses on Day 1 at Cheltenham at 5/4, 2/5, 1/3 and 4/6!! We want to have a bet and currently Cheltenham has little appeal.
Racing must remain a competition not an exhibition! Who bets on an exhibition?