Ruby Walsh: Irish racing can benefit from focusing on local meets

Ruby Walsh: Irish racing can benefit from focusing on local meets
Ruby Walsh celebrates victory on Un De Sceaux in the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeplechase at Cheltenham in 2015. Picture: Michael Steele/Getty Images

RACING will return to these shores next month and with different levels of Covid-19 restrictions across Europe, Irish trainers, jockeys and horses are likely to focus on action in Ireland.

Legendary jockey Ruby Walsh believes that the standard of meets in Ireland will shoot up as a consequence. In Walsh’s opinion, it’s an opportunity for a unique period in Irish racing.

“When horse racing returns, the one certainty is that international travel is going to be slow. Whatever way you look at it, it’s going to be limited,” writes the Paddy Power columnist for the betting firm’s website.

“That’s even for race meetings behind closed doors. How racing will get on with international competition? That’s one of the unknowns.

“Racing is going to be a bit of a sticky wicket. It’s going to be in the papers and on the public radar. Will horses, grooms, trainers, and jockeys be allowed to travel?

“Okay, trainers don’t have to go and you can use jockeys who are in the same de-restriction. Stable staff will have to go, though, and you’ll need at least two to travel per horse.

“So I don’t see much international participation for a while in Ireland, England or France.”

The Willie Mullins string is led onto the gallops by Paul Townend on Benie Des Dieux, left, and Ruby Walsh on Chacun Pour Soi ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile
The Willie Mullins string is led onto the gallops by Paul Townend on Benie Des Dieux, left, and Ruby Walsh on Chacun Pour Soi ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. Picture: David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile

Walsh argues in his Paddy Power column that, longer term, it will lead to some incredible showdowns between champions from different countries.

“What that means is our own will be taking on our own for now. It will be the same in the UK and likewise in France.

“With no Irish horses being able to travel for the Classics in England or France, you’re going to have big fields in the likes of the Irish Guineas. There will be no hiding place.

“And, if we have a truncated season, all the horses who are running against each other will be all be ready to run at the same time three and four weeks later.

“Some people will automatically come to the conclusion that there could be a Ballydoyle Irish Classic clean sweep but I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s nailed on.

“Eventually it will open up, whether it be three or four months down the line. Then we’re going to have proper racing. You’ll have Classic winners in Ireland taking on Classic winners in England and the Classic winners in France.

“And, come the time, whether it be in the Irish Champion Stakes, the Juddmonte in York, or the Arc, there are going to be some mouth-watering clashes. It will be like the old days when the best of Ireland went to Cheltenham to take on the best of the English horses.

“Or like the Irish Derby back in the day, when the English Derby winner always took on the French Derby winner. Just like Generous and Suave Dancer locked horns in 1991. Its races like that which we can look forward to towards the end of the season.”

Jockey Ruby Walsh prior before the Fairyhouse Easter Festival in 2017. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Jockey Ruby Walsh prior before the Fairyhouse Easter Festival in 2017. Picture: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Walsh makes the case for the Galway Festival being split in two, leaving the option of an autumn phase that would benefit the economy in the west.

“As it stands, Galway is going to take place behind closed doors. But do they still have seven days racing at the end of July when there’s no spin off for the city or the area? I don’t think so.

“I’d say the maximum Galway can go is four days. I can see all the summer festivals losing a day or two. The same with Killarney.

“These so-called festivals aren’t going to be festivals this year because the fun that goes with them isn’t going to be there.

Pundits Ruby, Kevin O'Ryan and Jane Mangan. Picture: Healy Racing.
Pundits Ruby, Kevin O'Ryan and Jane Mangan. Picture: Healy Racing.

“Regarding Galway, I think a lot of consideration has to go into their meeting. If the lift on restrictions happens in August, could we see the Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle take place at the September meeting?

“I don’t think they’ll push the Galway festival back two weeks but they could have a four-day Galway meeting in July and be more top heavy on Flat than it usually is. Just four days racing, with no crowd, in July. Then you could move the main jump races to the September meeting.

“Or could the September meeting in Galway host all the feature races? To me, splitting Galway up into two separate meetings could be the answer.”

More in this section

Sponsored Content