IT’S official, the national hunt racing has come to a close.
Fairyhouse’s Irish Grand National meeting has been cancelled along with the Punchestown Festival - but not even the Coronavirus pandemic can stop nature taking its course. Birds are building nests, spring lambs relishing lush grass and baby foals are having their first gallop.
Farmers and breeders alike have been doing their best to maintain some semblance of normality and with the help of the Department Of Agriculture and Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association, the care of animals has been to the forefront of agendas in rural Ireland.
Cork is renowned for producing top racehorses. Whether it’s Aidan Aherne’s Many Clouds winning the Aintree Grand National or Edmond Coleman’s Lord Windermere prevailing in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the people of Cork continue to make a positive impact in the world of thoroughbred breeding.
Cork is home to Ireland’s largest number of individual breeders. They recognise that their foals will be born regardless of COVID-19 and aftercare is non-negotiable.
In 2019, 864 individual thoroughbred breeders in Cork bred 1,639 broodmares resulting in 1,020 foals. These are serious numbers in terms of cash and creation.
After the success of Irish- and French-bred horses at this year’s Cheltenham Festival, some onlookers asked, “why are British bred horses not enjoying the same level of success as the Irish?”
The answer is simple, Ireland produce far more national hunt horses year on year compared to Britain. For example, 2019 saw Britain produce 1,125 national hunt foals versus Ireland’s 4,129.
Cork’s breeding success isn’t just down to the quality and quantity of land, racehorse breeding is at the core of many families across the county and the fact that we have top class stallions on our doorstep must also be considered a major factor.
Cork is home to some of Europe’s finest stallion farms who offer world-renowned horses to their clients. Mares travel from all over Britain and France to visit our local studs.
Should you wish to cover your mare with proven Group 1 sires such as Acclamation (Rathbarry Stud) and Mastercraftsman (Castlehyde Stud) or champions performers fresh from the track such as Capri (Grange Stud), breeders need never cross the county borders in search of top paternal bloodlines.
Nationwide restrictions to combat Covid-19 will pose problems to this sector of the industry but hopefully will lead to recovery sooner rather than later.
Springtime is often the harvest for stud farms. It’s worth noting that the busiest week for stud farms last season was week 19. The first week of May last year saw 1,196 coverings across the country and with a month to go before potential peak, everyone has been playing their individual role in keeping this area of the industry running as smoothly as possible.
As for racehorse trainers across the country, many national hunt yards have effectively given their horses an early summer break. Now with a definitive end to the national hunt season, everyone can finally make more informed decisions regarding their own particular business.
Without revealing specifics, Horse Racing Ireland said when racing resumes, it will do so with a month of flat-only fixtures. However, there will be a much busier National Hunt programme during the October to December period including a rearranged Irish Grand National.
Clarity on this situation is welcome by everyone in the industry as entities can now put measures in place to plan ahead. We now know that if racing is lucky enough to return in the second half of April, it will be a flat only sport for a month thus national hunt trainers can plan their routine with this in mind.
Whatever the industry’s Covid-19 contingency plan, 2019 was a tough year overall for national hunt trainers. Figures released by the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board this week revealed that the number of fully licensed jumps trainers plummeted 17% to 81 last year.
That’s 39 less than 10 years ago. No doubt this decline is due to a combination of factors but when the figure 2020 is released 12 months from now, I have no doubt the landscape will be even darker.