BETTING — racing’s lifeblood and Achilles heel all in one complex package.
When one thinks of the word betting, our minds often swerve straight to “gambling” and with that comes scandal and stigma.
In reality, when one drinks a glass of wine with dinner or a pint while watching the match, we don’t instantaneously match such behaviour to alcoholism so why the double standards?
I’m not questioning that someone with an addictive nature can find themselves balancing on a tightrope when having a tipple on the Grand National or a sip of Pinot Noir, but the fact remains that betting doesn’t always equal problems; more often than not it simply makes things more interesting.
With that sentiment in mind, I find it difficult to see how any hobby punter could get excited about the graded action at Fairyhouse this weekend.
Yes, as a fan I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing some of Ireland’s finest equine athletes line up in some lucrative and prestigious races, but aside from the names, the numbers are somewhat deflating.
Take Sunday’s Drinmore Novice Chase for example.
At entry stage, just two trainers accounted for all seven runners.
This isn’t a criticism of any particular person, we all know why the entries were so small — because no novice in this country looks capable of beating Envoi Allen. He’s the flawless horse with a race record of 10 from 10.
Unbeaten and has never looked beatable. Yes, he’s an animal, not mechanical, but the reality for punters is the Drinmore is a non-event. But for racing fans, it’s bliss!
If Envoi Allen is the flawless horse then Henry de Bromhead’s Honeysuckle is the flawless mare. Like Gordon Elliott’s gelding, this mare remains unbeaten from her nine starts and while she doesn’t carry nearly the same weight of expectation as Envoi Allen, the fact remains that she is the best mare in training and is the reigning Hatton’s Grace Champion.
An Irish Champion Hurdle winner over two miles before beating Benie Des Dieux over two and a half miles in the Mare’s Hurdle at Cheltenham, Honeysuckle has beaten the best, not to mention her demolition of Bacardys and Apple’s Jade in this very race last year.
So punters, is there any point betting against the best at a track we know she loves?
Some might argue that last year’s Morgiana Hurdle winner, Saldier, could have her measure, but I think there are plenty of factors counting against him.
Firstly, he’s had just two runs in 24 months. Secondly, he must concede 7lbs to the mare who’s rated the very same as him and finally, Honeysuckle is a perfect five wins from five runs at the track. I’d be keeping my money in my pocket!
Then we have the Bar One Racing Price Boost Juvenile Hurdle, with just a handful of runners, but a number of noteworthy names.
Cheveley Park’s Quilixios remains unbeaten from three starts and has appeared the best juvenile hurdler we’ve seen so far this season.
He shoulders a penalty for his recent win, but unless Mullins, Meade or O’Brien unleashes a top-class recruit, this race looks like another to admire rather than indulge.
So, is there anything to delve into this weekend?
It’s not like Epatante is going to go off at juicy odds in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle!
Punters will have their notebooks out studying the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury tomorrow and the Porterstown Handicap Chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday.
Both ultra-competitive handicaps and both offering significant each-way opportunities for regular folk who want to get involved.
Formerly known as the Hennessy, the Ladbrokes Trophy has been won by brilliant horses in the past including Many Clouds, Bobs Worth, Native River, and those two wonderful weight-carrying performances by Denman, but this year’s contingent don’t appear to have a Gold Cup winner among them.
Kim Bailey’s Vindication was second to Cyrname when last seen in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby where he had the reposing Aye Right behind him when conceding 4lbs.
Tomorrow, he will have to concede 11lbs to that same rival on softer ground. He’s classy but I’m not convinced.
The Conditional finished a gallant second last year before capturing the Ultima Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He’s now competing off a 9lbs higher mark this year, I’m still not convinced.
Truth is, this race lacks a star and for that reason, my eye is drawn to the lighter weights and bigger prices to exploit some value against the market leaders.
To that end, I’m hoping Copperhead (Tizzard) and Cloth Cap (O’Neill) run big races at big odds for each-way punters.
Best of luck!