THIS could prove to be a critical weekend for handlers around the country as they seek to catch up for the delays that the prolonged spell of wet weather has created.

Despite the ground beginning to dry out rapidly, with ‘Yielding’ featuring in the going description at three of last weekend’s four fixtures, the now almost weekly alterations to the weekend’s programme of racing in the pointing fields show no sign of abating.

Last Saturday, it was announced that the Bree Foxhounds point-to-point, which was scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, was cancelled after the course at Monksgrange was found to be unfit for racing following an inspection.

To lose that fixture at such a key point of the season would have been a significant loss for handlers, and so the Kilkenny Foxhounds have to be given particular credit for stepping in at short notice and arranging all the necessary personnel to run a replacement fixture in Borris House.


Their efforts have been richly rewarded, with tomorrow’s fixture attracting 239 entries, by far the largest of the season. That trend continues right across the weekend, with all five fixtures attracting the five biggest entries for the season.

While it highlights the current pinch point, with handlers scrambling to run their horses now that the testing conditions have eased up, the IHRB does have to be credited for their programming of races this weekend.

Following the cancellation of Monksgrange, the winners’ of one race at Ballysteen was converted into a winners’ of two contest to create an opportunity for a greater pool of horses within that category.

This allowed them to run Borris House as an all-maiden card with a specific focus on younger horses where the backlog is most acute.

In particular, three separate four-year-old maiden races have been programmed for the Co Carlow venue tomorrow, with a race each for mares and geldings in the age group and an auction maiden. There are also two five-year-old maiden races on the card, with most races significantly oversubscribed.


The entries that the fixture has received have demonstrated that it is a tactic that worked particularly well. Hopefully, given that success, it will be considered again.

In recent years, when Horse Racing Ireland has announced its fixtures list for the following year, it has kept a handful of meetings back as floating fixtures that can be added to the calendar at relatively short notice to meet demand at a point in the season when it is proving to be particularly strong.

Twelve months ago, this corresponding weekend was again oversubscribed owing to the insurance issue at the time. Following Covid-19 interruptions that had impacted the preceding seasons, an unwelcome trend seems to have developed recently.

Mirroring the HRI approach going forward with a standby list of committees who could step in, like the Kilkennys have done this weekend, would allow the sport to be as flexible as possible with sufficient fixtures to meet the demand.

James and O’Neill go neck and neck

THE top of the rider’s leaderboard had a new name at the end of racing last Saturday.

A Curraghmore double propelled Rob James to the summit of the standings as he bypassed his great friend and rival Barry O’Neill into a marginal lead of one winner.

That proved to be short-lived, as the reigning champion countered that with a double of his own in Tattersalls 24 hours later to reverse the placings in his bid to successfully defend his title for a seventh time.

But the margins could not be any finer entering the final five weekends of the season, with just one winner separating the pair. It looks like they will now serve up the first title race for the riders’ championship since O’Neill secured the first of his seven national titles in 2017.

Back then, the title battle between O’Neill and Jamie Codd went down to the penultimate race of the season at Ballingarry, the final race that the pair were both eligible to ride in. Just a single winner separated them at the death - 66 to 65 in O’Neill’s favour.

With a similar single-winner margin separating this year’s protagonists, we could be treated to a similarly nail-biting conclusion.

O’Neill deserves hats off at Tatts

THE weekend changes have not been limited to the south-east of the country with the Meath and Tara’s having to switch their fixture tomorrow from Fairyhouse across the road to the neighbouring Tattersalls venue.

That move was forced when the point-to-point track at Fairyhouse was found to be unfit for racing when inspected on Monday.

This will be the fifth fixture that Tattersalls has hosted since the end of October, and in particular, it will be the third staged there in the month of April, with the course accommodating the Ballymacad and Meath and Tara committees in the past fortnight, when their scheduled venues were found to be unfit for racing.


Track foreman Gerard O’Neill has to be credited with his efforts in turning the course around for three fixtures this month, particularly when the course was the last track standing on the opening weekend of the month, yet was still able to provide fresh ground last Sunday.

Between Dromahane and Tattersalls, the two venues will host 10 fixtures between them this season, accounting for a 10th of the season, highlighting the importance of both courses at present.

Keops has big hooves to follow

YEAR after year, the four-year-old maiden contest at Loughanmore continues to deliver. Grade 1 winners this season Jasmin De Vaux and Ballyburn, both won their maidens at the Antrim course last season, and they follow the likes of It’s For Me and Leinster National winner Hartur D’Arc, who were winners in the age division there in the 2021/’22 campaign.

Keops Des Bordes (94+) should ensure that the high standard is maintained after a dominant debut success. He swiftly had his rivals on the back foot when making his move from the front leaving the back straight, from where the Donnchadh Doyle-trained bay was always in command. His is a name to remember.

Doyle’s brother Sean has produced a number of smart maiden winners in recent weeks, and Moon Rocket (92++) added his name to that growing list at Curraghmore on the same afternoon. He had too much speed for his rivals in the home straight and is value for more than the five-length winning margin as he took a big step forward from his debut.

The opening division was a more closely run affair, with El Cairos (92+) just fending off a more experienced rival, which he has to be given particular credit for.

His rider Sean Staples was also aboard two further winners in the age group at Dromahane 24 hours later.

Dalston Lad (91++) would have gone down as the most unlucky loser of the weekend had he not managed to get up on debut after he was badly hampered four-out at a key point in the race when the favourite had kicked on. The fact that he overcame that to win ensures his effort has to be significantly marked up.

The opening division of that maiden ended in a three-way finish, as Full Confession (91+) showed a great attitude to win by a head.

At Tattersalls, Bygone Era (91+) overcame a far-from-fluent leap at the last to hold on from the eye-catching runner-up Tokyo Tom, who came from a long way back to finish just over a length behind.