We’ve somehow come to expect as normal the practice of avoidance in racing. Potentially the sport’s biggest star will sit out this week’s Tingle Creek. Not because of ground concerns, low sun, or an eclipse of Jupiter’s 3rd moon. Quite simply there are other opportunities for the horse and a clash with Un De Slow doesn’t appeal to Willie Mullins. Willie simply doesn’t race his best stock against each other. Period.
Now, when I scream the place down about said policy, I’m met with three responses. The sheep say nothing. There are those that have made money backing Willie’s charges who will hear no wrong because he’s lined their pockets. And there are those who fundamentally disagree with this trio of self-serving individuals.
Namely Mullins, Ricci, and Walsh.
Of course, nobody should be surprised at Rich Ricci. The flamboyant banker who’s trousered a great deal of our money, now sees a cheap opportunity to dominate a sport. And for him it is pennies. On ATR’s excellent ‘on the line’ show – Chapman gently chided Ricci on his tactics. Douvan and the Gold Cup was briefly discussed. You could see Rich visibly wincing at the prospect of risking his star against the likes of Thistlecrack.
Let’s fairly the blame for racing’s issues with top races not fulfilling their potential squarely at the foot of these men. Fine Mullins can train, Walsh can ride, Rich can bank the odd cheque. Those of you thinking they’re heroes for delivering us such quality animals, consider this. Were the likes of Douvan, Annie Power, Faugheen, Arctic Fire or the ill fated Vautour owned by differing persons, as opposed to the hands of one man, would we be more or less likely to see at least three of these performers in the one race – the Champion Hurdle, where they clearly should be competing? Did the trio not pull out Vautour from his intended target, claiming he hadn’t worked sufficiently well, yet to place him in the far lesser Ryanair to provide yet another opportunity for the lads to stand on the podium?
I note Ricci persuaded his own betting company to refund Vautour gold cup backers, after he maintained GC was the no 1 target. Those who wagered with other companies appeared less lucky. Perhaps Rich you should refund them?
Imagine you were an owner targeting your mildly lesser animal for the Mares race and Annie Power turns up, or Vautour in the Ryanair. How are such important sponsors of the sport advantaged, encouraged? Would you expect to face the Champion Hurdler elect? It’s time for Cheltenham to impose a ceiling in ratings on the participation of certain horses in such events, for the sake of those essential smaller owners, and yes competitiveness.
Who recalls Ruby Walsh’s indignant stance on Channel 4 when I dared to criticise the policy on Quevega, and her participation in a race several grades below her potential. A grade one winning mare running in the lowest rated race. A sham and no mistake.
Cast your mind back just a few years. If Paul Nicholls were to adopt similar policy, we would never have been treated to Neptune Collonges vs Kuato Star vs Denman so many times. It simply would not have happened
If the leading jump owner of our generation, the amiable and shy JP MacManus, adopted said policy, many races over a decade would have been trashed. To be fair a great deal of racing’s top owners, Sheikh Mohammed, Abdullah, Magnier, and O Leary have provided exactly that- competition. They race their horses in the grade appropriate to their ability.
If Lewis Hamilton dropped to Formula 3, or Andy Murray to the challenge tour, surely you’d think that odd? If you bought a ticket to see Manchester United and Alex Ferguson declared they could only play Liverpool in the cup final, refused to play anyone but Scunthorpe and kept Giggs and Cantona on the bench- would you not have been angered by his lack of ambition?
For these reasons, the denial to the sport from this trio of racing their best in the correct race or grade has to be criticised, and often. I’m thoroughly tired of those fawning to individuals so bent on self at the expense of the sport. Douvan will head to Cork in a meaningless exercise. Once again the regulator(s) are failing the sport in allowing promotion seeking owners to work the system. No grade 1 horse should be permitted in such lesser grades. It weakens the fabric of ownership, competitiveness and betting turnover.
When I read of Ruby Walsh, a genius in the saddle, but sour as a lemon out, telling bookmakers what nonsense it is to offer Douvan at 5/1 for the Tingle Creek, I genuinely wonder if he realises just what a giant hypocrite he is. One of the architects of avoidance in the sport. Part of the problem, telling us we’re fools because we can’t second guess his team. He’ll jump off Douvan to ride Un De Sceaux, by the way.
The solution is to tell Ruby Walsh to do his talking in the saddle.
Incidentally, if you had £20 on Douvan at 5/1 to win the Tingle Creek – you’d lose £20. His next outing will be at 1/8 odds at Cork. If you joined the gamble, to whatever level, you’ve lost your money. And the blame for that lies squarely at the door of Mullins. He declared the horse right up to the last hour.If you backed Un De Sceaux at 4/1, I fancy you’re kissing Willie’s backside.
If you bought a ticket at Sandown expecting to see one of these great stars turn up, you’re likely disappointed. I welcome the decision of Michael O Leary to remove his team from WM, it can only serve racing. Fans mean less to this trio than a podium in March, and it’s time to call them out, not apologise for, tactics so damaging to the sport.