The Jane Mangan column: Racing just isn't the same with empty grandstands

The Jane Mangan column: Racing just isn't the same with empty grandstands

Envoi Allen with jockey Jack Kennedy after winning the Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse Racecourse.

AS I watched the awesome Envoi Allen strut his way back to a desolate Fairyhouse winners’ enclosure last Sunday, I thought, “Bruce Springsteen wouldn’t play to barren grandstands.”

Envoi Allen had put on a show that merited an ovation, yet here he was returning to a smattering of applause from those lucky enough to be present.

I remembered that vaccinations are on the cards and that the English government has made the first move in welcoming paying customers back to the track. Hope is on the horizon.

Just last Wednesday, Ludlow, Lingfield, and Haydock all welcomed members of the public back to the races, following the lifting of England’s national lockdown.

All four tracks are in Tier 2 areas, allowing crowds of up to 2,000 people or 50% capacity.

In contrast, no owner in Ireland is permitted to attend race meetings, despite the widespread acknowledgment that if there are no owners, there is no sport.

This isn’t a criticism, just a reminder to the Government that the current situation is untenable. With many UK-based owners training their horses in Ireland, what’s to stop them taking their investment home, where they can at least watch them run in the flesh?

This is not time to fall asleep at the wheel.

Altior ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (right) and Epatante ridden by Jerry McGrath during the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival Gallops morning. 
Altior ridden by jockey Nico de Boinville (right) and Epatante ridden by Jerry McGrath during the Ladbrokes Winter Carnival Gallops morning. 

Speaking of runners: Altior is back and with a point to prove. Sandown’s Tingle Creek Chase is a test of speed and accuracy, one that has given us so many great memories in the past, from Desert Orchid in ’88 to Moscow Flyer beating Azertyuiop and Well Chief in 2004.

Of course, Moscow Flyer won it twice, along with Kauto Star, Sound Man, Waterloo Boy, Twist Magic, Master Minded, and Sire De Grugy, so Altior has two points to prove: Can he join these names by winning another Tingle Creek and, in turn, prove that he’s as good as ever, despite last year’s stop-start season?

Beaten just once in 16 starts over fences, the four-time Cheltenham Festival hero hasn’t been seen since Newbury’s Game Spirit in February.

Stepping up in trip didn’t pay dividends, but his trainer, Nicky Henderson, is confident he has his star two-miler back in peak form, despite his patchy campaign last term.

One of his key rivals is also seeking a second Tingle Creek win, as Paul Nicholls’s reigning Champion Chase hero, Politologue, lines up, with Harry Skelton retaining the ride.

Nicholls also saddles Greaneteen, an improving six-year-old who impressed many in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter last month, under stable jockey Harry Cobden. Nicholls versus Henderson: The season really is back in full flow!

The Skelton brothers team up earlier on the same card in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices’ Chase, with the four-year-old Allmankind, who finished a gallant third in the Triumph Hurdle in March, before making all on his chase debut at Warwick three weeks ago.

Aggressive by nature, Allmankind is likely to set a stern gallop that will not only test his own accuracy and technique of jumping, but will also put his rivals to the sword from flag fall. Novice chases are not for the faint-hearted, but Allmankind might be all we need.

The pick of Sunday’s action comes from Punchestown, as Rich Ricci’s Min goes for a third consecutive win in the John Durkan Memorial Chase and on his first run since beating Saint Calvados in the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

However, if Min is destined to win his seventh Grade 1 over fences, he will have to beat Marsh Chase winner, Samcro, and recent Down Royal winner, Battleoverdoyen. Battleoverdoyen sprung somewhat of a surprise when trouncing Easy Game and a tired-looking Samcro at the northern venue in October and while the latter was having his first run since March, so was Battleoverdoyen.

Well-beaten by champ, Minella Indo, and Allaho in the RSA Chase, perhaps the key to this big horse is two and a half miles. Despite his size, Battleoverdoyen might not necessarily be a dower stayer.

Either way, we’ll find out on Sunday if he is up to the standard set by Min, because his rating of 160 leaves him 9lbs shy!

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