Sport and society can learn from this situation says trainer Michael Winters

Sport and society can learn from this situation says trainer Michael Winters
Trainer Michael Winters congratulates jockey Simon Torrens after a win in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle. Picture: Healy Racing

WHEN Horse Racing Ireland announced on Wednesday that the National Hunt Season is officially over, very few racing fans will have been surprised.

In a week where sporting events like Wimbledon were cancelled, it seemed highly unlikely that Fairyhouse, Punchestown or the Easter Racing Festival at Cork would go ahead during April.

There had been mutterings about taking the highest-profile races from Fairyhouse and running them at Punchestown but this midweek press release made it crystal clear. The jumps season is over.

While racing is a sport and provides fantastic entertainment, it is also a massive industry providing around 30,000 jobs in total.

Huge parts of rural Ireland depend solely on racing to keep people employed within their communities. Trainer Michael Winters is a hugely successful trainer and feels plenty of good can come out of the current crisis.

“Dealing with the racing side of this first, I suppose the first thing you have to do is be straight up and honest with owners. No one has an idea when racing will return and we could be looking at August at the earliest. So horses that were ready to run will just have to go back to their owners and take a break.

“Some of the very young horses can be brought in and we can spend a bit of time teaching them some new disciplines.

“My uncle Teddy who was 93 when he died last year had a saying, ‘A plague will happen every lifetime’ and I suppose that is happening now. Maybe society will also look at itself and learn plenty from this enforced break.

“I mean we’re in the Kanturk/Newmarket part of the country and the community spirit is unbelievable. There is a young nurse near us here who is working flat out in this crisis, she has a couple of small kids so people like that are the real heroes. Racing and sport, in general, are well down the line when you consider the health of the nation.

“Saying all that it will be great to get back racing when we do. With the 2km restrictions, most of our staff wouldn’t be able to make it in here. Now to be fair, the Government have stepped in to give everyone a payment.

“Our workload is all very low key really and we’re just tipping away with a few horses at home to keep us away from boredom. At least all these superpowers are trying to find a cure for this coronavirus right now.

“A few months ago they could have been threatening to blow each other up with nuclear weapons. Here in north Cork at the moment, it is very peaceful and calm around the place. Everyone has time to slow down a small bit and appreciate that good health is the only thing that matters.”

While a philosophical trainer like Winters certainly makes plenty of valid points about the tranquillity of life right now, the board of HRI were pretty clear about the plans for racing going forward. Flat racing will dominate when racing resumes while the national hunt brigade can look forward to a very busy autumn.

So with the jumps season officially over, Paul Townend will be crowned Champion Jockey for the third time in his career.

Townend was 35 clear of his fellow east Cork man Davy Russell and barring injury looked unstoppable anyway.

While I’m sure he will be disappointed to miss out on Punchestown, he can reflect on an extraordinary final day of the Cheltenham Festival which caps off the season. Riding a treble which included a Gold Cup defence will live long in the memory.

Townend was under intense scrutiny across the water as he was taking over from Ruby Walsh as number one rider to Willie Mullins. But he certainly passed that test with flying colours.

Finally, it was also a very successful year for Davy Russell, although his chance of winning a third consecutive Aintree Grand National aboard Tiger Roll is on hold.

Envoi Allen will be a leading contender for Horse of the Year and Russell gave him such a cool ride in the Ballymore at Cheltenham.

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