How will Gordon Elliott go, on and off the track?
Gordon Elliott is back to doing what he does best, sending out winners, and he must be quietly pleased with how he has re-established himself since his six-month suspension, with seemingly the majority of the Irish public, inside racing and out, sympathetic to how he was treated by the mainstream media last March. Whether he is afforded the same sympathy in Britain is questionable, but he’ll soon find out in the coming months.
On the track, it would seem like Elliott has fallen back significantly in his hard-fought quest to topple Willie Mullins in the trainers’ championship, not least because some of his deadliest weapons joined Closutton and the yard of Henry de Bromhead last season. That said, talk of the latter mentioned offering the main challenge to Mullins this term is a bit premature. While the loss of the big-name Cheveley Park horses is a huge blow, Elliott said that he only lost 12 horses directly due to the social media photograph incident last March.
Meanwhile, Noel and Valerie Moran and Andrew and Gemma Brown have spent big on a number of promising young horses bound for Cullentra. Don’t be surprised at all if Elliott scores plenty of graded-race winners this season and he will likely have some big darts to fire come the time of the big spring festivals.
Can Rachael continue to blaze a trail in the mainstream?
What Rachael Blackmore did for jumps racing last season was gold dust. At a time shortly after the sport had its bare foundations rocked following the Elliott photo incident, she was the central figure in hauling racing back to the mainstream for only positive reasons, reaching the pinnacle of the game by riding more winners than any other jockey at the Cheltenham Festival and then remarkably winning the Grand National.
And in a year where Irish sportswomen achieved remarkable things around the world, it says a lot that Blackmore is still an odds-on shot to win the RTÉ Sports Personality of the Year Award.
With racecourses set to open their doors and allow a full complement of the paying public back in unrestricted (hopefully very soon), Blackmore could be a key figure in stimulating that transition. We cannot take it for granted that people will just go racing again like nothing has happened for the last year and a half. If she can stay fit and Henry de Bromhead’s horses continue to go well, Blackmore is the easiest marketing tool racing has to attract more through the gate.
Can the big spending owners strike gold as Gigginstown’s impact decreases?
Gigginstown’s slow and gradual depart from jump racing will be felt further this season which should open up more opportunities for the new money in the jumps game. Noel and Valerie Moran, who now appear on racecards under the banner of their Bective Stud, should continue to increase their foothold as their young team feels the benefit of being another year older. Their white and green colours were carried to victory 19 times in Ireland last season but it would be a big surprise if they didn’t easily surpass that total this term with the likes of the exciting Ginto, Hollow Games, Party Central, Grand Roi, The Bosses Oscar and Zanahiyr to go to war with.
It could also be another big season for Brian Acheson’s Robcour string. His ownership project is further down the line than the Morans and he had by far his best season yet last term with 32 winners, headed by the superb Bob Olinger, who could be just about anything this season.
Aspire Tower, Pencilfulloflead, Magic Daze and Gentlemansgame are just some of the other horses Acheson can look forward to this term while he also added further to his team in the off season, most notably acquiring prospective juvenile hurdler Gentleman Joe (goes to Henry de Bromhead) from Britain and Jumping Jet (Gordon Elliott) who won her Gowran Park bumper by all of 29 lengths.
Will Ireland dominate Cheltenham again?
Probably. Maybe not to the tune of 23 winners but it’s hard to see Irish horses not coming out on top numerically at the very least. Sport is cyclical and the British trainers will come good again, but maybe not for another couple of years. Ireland’s 23 winners at Cheltenham was unprecedented and while questions have been asked on the other side of the Irish Sea, nothing has been altered in order to counteract such a beating.
The best jumps horses around are currently trained here. Ireland had the best horse in every division of the Anglo-Irish Jumps Racing Classifications for last season and we won every novice Grade 1 race at Cheltenham bar the Arkle and Marsh.
Such success should have prompted more British business at the top Irish store sales this season, which may help stem the flow, or may not, seen as lots of British owners have taken a can’t-beat-them-may-as-well-join-them mantra.
Also, the pinpoint position of the Dublin Racing Festival has allowed Irish trainers to give their horses proper trials before going to Cheltenham. There has been talk of making a British equivalent meeting but again, there is nothing doing for this year at least.
Can you give us one jockey and trainer that could have a big year?
Brian Hayes recorded his best ever tally of 33 winners last term and after a busy summer, he looks in a good place to break a new personal best with 23 already on the board.
The Cork native probably felt the benefit of David Mullins’s retirement and consequent shake-up to the jockey pecking order at Closutton as he rode eight winners for Willie Mullins last season which included a Grade 2 win on Easy Game. He has already ridden six winners for Mullins this summer which suggests he could be used a little more through the winter.
Last season he rode seven winners for Emmet Mullins, another trainer worth following after an excellent season last term. Hayes has partnered nice prospects Noble Yeats, Russian Diamond and Cape Gentleman for Emmet in recent weeks.
Another man who has had a great summer is Peter Fahey and the Monasterevin trainer is in a good position to kick on again this winter. Fahey has 14 wins on the board since the turn of the season meaning he needs just four more winners to equal his best ever tally. Belfast Banter gave him a first Cheltenham Festival and Grade 1 winner last spring and such success should allow him to further sharpen his quality-over-quantity approach.