THE impact this season in particular of former Grade 1 winners in the open lightweight division has been acknowledged by the Stewards of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee with the publication of the provisional summary for the spring 2023 campaign which commences at Dromahane on Friday, December 30th.

Of the 22 open races run so far this season, exactly half of them have been won by horses that had previously won a Grade 1 race throughout their previous careers on the track, with their performances in the division this term one of the chief talking points from the opening 11 weekends of the season.


In response to the representations that had been received by the authorities, they have elected to programme a handful of additional open races in the spring where graded horses are excluded.

The first such race will take place at Dromahane on December 30th, and further races at Oldtown (February 18th), Nenagh (February 19th), Durrow (March 19th), Loughanmore (April 10th) and Grennan (May 7th) will be follow exclusively for horse that have not previously won a Grade 1, 2 or 3 race over hurdles or fences.

The corresponding fixtures at Dromahane, Oldtown and Nenagh have previously run with these same conditions in recent years, and they will be complimented by the three additional races later in the season.

The busier spring season does provide a significant number of additional opportunities as it is to suggest that the dominance of former Grade 1 winners in recent weeks should not be as keenly felt during the peak months of the season with three to four fixtures each weekend.

Four-year-olds races reduced

THE spring season will feature a slight alteration to the programme of races for four-year-olds.

The number of auction races, which are confined to horses that were bought at store sales for €25,000 or less, has been reduced from six to four.

This had been signaled in 2021 for last season following feedback from handlers but will now be implemented this spring with the races at Durrow (March 19th), Loughanmore (April 10th), Monksgrange (April 23rd) and Ballingarry (May 20th).

The programme of races for four-year-old mares has also been brought forward and will now commence at Kildorrery on February 19th.

Age group

As recently as 2020, opportunities for four-year-old mares to race against their own sex did not commence until March and this has steadily crept forward with Lisronagh hosting the first such race in the age group this year on the final Sunday in February.

The introduction of a February 19th race in 2023 supplements the enlarged programme of races for this category in the autumn term, and will be a first four-year-old race in the spring at Kildorrery after the venue staged a four-year-old race in November 2021.

Race added

A four-year-old only race has also been added to the Tynan and Armagh fixture in Farmacaffley for the first time.

The two-and-a-half-mile race takes the place of the winners-of-two race on the card.

The addition of these races to the cards at Kildorrery and Farmacaffley now leaves just Bandon and Stradbally as the two venues that race from February onwards and are without four-year-old maidens highlighting how important they have become over the years.

Almost half of all hunter certificates, 665 of 1,373 are for four-year-olds and so it is no surprise to see hunt committees seeking to maximise their entry revenues with 16 fixtures in the spring featuring two four-year-old races on their cards.

Additional funding for novice rider and for older maidens

THE INHSC is set to continue to put up a significant amount of funding for the spring with €25,600 allocated for spring 2023 of which €11,850 is to assist the programme of novice-rider races.

In an effort to promote and retain six-year-old and older horses competing in point-to-points, four races between January and April will have a €1,500 bonuses attached to them, with a €5,000 prize up for grabs in the winners’ final at Dromahane on April 30th, while there are two races at Lingstown and Dromahane in March and April for handlers who have trained 10 winners or less that will each also have a bonus of €1,500.

The merit of attaching a combined €6,000 to four individual older maiden races in a programme with close to 50 such races in an effort to help retain older horses remains open to questioning its effectiveness.

However, given how the programme of fixtures in the month of May has collapsed for this season, it is particularly disappointing to see that none of the bonus races have been allocated to fixtures in May.

The stewards of the INHSC received feedback at the end of last season that the winners’ final in particular should be scheduled as near as possible to the end of the season.

Scheduling it at the end of April would seem to have overlooked this and it would seem counter-productive to run a final that is specifically for horses that were placed in the first four during that season, a month before the season has ended

Point-to-point Ratings

Welcom addition to Doyle academy

THERE would certainly not seem to be any shortage of firepower this season within Donnchadh Doyle’s Monbeg Stables, as he won both divisions of the four-year-old geldings’ maiden at Borris House last Sunday.

That repeated a feat which he had already achieved in Lingstown last month in the only other race so far this season to be divided.

In Welcom To Cartries (95+) he looks to have a particularly exciting prospect on his hands.

The No Risk At All gelding had made his way to the front and was lengthening when his nearest rival came down two-out which allowed him to return a 16-length debut winner.

The manner in which he opened up from that second-last fence, flew the last and hit the line to clock a time 12 seconds quicker than the average on yielding ground was eye-catching to say the least.

The opening division in the age group also went the way of Doyle with Iorangi De L’Isle (92+), and while not as polished as his stablemate given the signs of greenness that he showed from two-out, he did hint at what he is capable of when pulling clear on the run-in. There looks to be more to come from him.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Brain Power (112++) was simply in a different league to his rivals to win his third open of the season.

This track certainly plays to his strengths and that was evident as he defeated capable rivals with the minimum of effort and is value for considerably more than the winning margin allows.