THE season again revolved around the dominance of Irish-trained horses in Britain’s top races. As they did in 2021, Irish horses won the five open championship races at Cheltenham this year.
That dominance, alongside the single-figure fields in many of the Grade 1s, generated a lot of negative comments in the racing media.
Irish trainers saddled the winners of 10 of the 14 Grade 1s at Cheltenham, the final score coming in at 18-10 over the four days, though this was a huge ‘home’ improvement on the 23-5 drubbing from 2021.
With prize money so good in Ireland, there were few Irish challengers across the water in the early part of the season.The first two big Grade 1 chases in Britain went to Ireland, with A Plus Tard dominant in the Betfair Chase and Tornado Flyer giving Willie Mullins just a second King George success.
Frodon travelled in the other direction and took the Grade 1 at Down Royal in November. His trainer Paul Nicholls was the only one to attempt to capture prize money at the Dublin Racing Festival but his two hopefuls disappointed.
It was surprising to see that 13 of the 18 Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham did not run at the DRF. (Facile Vega, Sir Gerhard, Vauban, Honeysuckle and Delta Work did).
Energumene just missed out in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase in January, the race of the season, but Fakir D’Oudairies was well placed by Joseph O’Brien to pick up two Grade 1s in Britain, and this horse was one of only three Grade 1 winners trained in Ireland at the big Aintree meeting where the Brits fought back.
Despite the handicapper showing some leniency to British handicappers, in the later months Noble Yeats, Hewick, Screaming Colours and Suprise Package scooped big handicap prizes.
British trainers Donald McCain, Milton Harris, Venetia Williams and Christian Williams had good seasons with a wider range of smaller trainers beating the top yards in valuable handicaps.
Of the top 10 money earners in Britain and Ireland, up to Punchestown, eight of the 10 were trained in Ireland. The big British hope for next season is the hugely impressive Supreme Novices’ Hurdle winner Constitution Hill who has Honeysuckle in his sights.
Despite the disrupted point-to-point season, the demand for young unproven National Hunt horses continued. But there was some evidence to suggest you didn’t need fortunes to compete at the top table. Sure, you could spend £570,000 to take Jonbon home, but for £450,000 you could end up with Gallyhill. You could breed one of your own and get an Arkle winner like Edwardstone, come up with £50,000 for Ahoy Senor, pay 14,000gns for a moneyspinner like Knight Salute or take home Hewick for the price of a cow! That’s our sport.