THE concerns that an especially dry November could impact on last weekend’s Fairyhouse Winter Festival were allayed by some top-quality action last weekend with pride of place going to the outstanding Honeysuckle whose standing as one of the all-time great mares is now beyond reproach.
A look back at previous years of this top-class fixture over the weekend called to mind a number of memories, and a less than obvious one is that Gordon Elliott’s first graded winner for Gigginstown House Stud came when Tharawaat landed the Grade 3 juvenile hurdle back in 2008.
At the time the country was sliding into a major economic downturn although this recession’s impact on prize money would only start to be felt acutely as we moved into 2009.
Thus it was interesting to note what prize money was like at the Winter Festival in 2008 compared to what it was last weekend.
Admittedly the races programmed for Fairyhouse have changed somewhat over the years but there have been a number of constants and the overall picture is a somewhat sobering one and gives pause for thought when it comes to the money on offer for various races.
As time goes on prize money has become a major topic and looking to the future it will be an increasingly critical factor when it comes to attracting and sustaining owners within racing because attitudes have changed.
There was a time when a victory in a high-profile event and the prestige such a success would garner was sufficient for some connections.
The sands of time have moved though and other considerations are now in play with prize money and the potential for some return on investment a notable consideration for the next generation of owners.
Back to 2008 and the Royal Bond, the Drinmore and the Hatton’s Grace were all worth a total of €90,000. Last weekend the Royal Bond and the Drinmore were run for €70,000 while the Hatton’s Grace was worth €100,000.
To say the least it is somewhat disappointing to have seen prize money drop so dramatically for two of the meeting’s most prestigious prizes.
It wasn’t all bad news and it has to be acknowledged that the Grade A handicap hurdle won by Gua Du Large offered its participants a purse of €80,000 which is double what it was worth back in 2008.
In terms of some of the other constants at the meeting, the aforementioned Grade 3 juvenile hurdle has seen its value drop by €5,000 to €27,500 over the course of the last 13 years.
The Porterstown Chase has held steady at €40,000 while the bumper on Sunday’s card is run for €500 less than it was in 2008.
So in summary, the centrepiece of the meeting, the Hatton’s Grace, has seen its value enhanced and the handicap hurdle has enjoyed a doubling in value.
The fact that such an increase has been ploughed into the handicap is interesting and by no means a bad thing as handicaps by their nature are more egalitarian than graded races and offer the chance of a very well-endowed success to a much wider cohort of connections.
However, it is a little concerning when the purses for two of the Grade 1s at the meeting have dropped in value by just over 22% in 13 years.
The fact that the handicaps at the fixture have held their value is a positive but such a slide in graded races is not an ideal scenario.
Only last month at Cheltenham, 14 promising young point-to-pointers sold for €100,000 or more. Not all of those horses will go on to contest Grade 1s but some of them will and may even end up as future candidates for the likes of a Royal Bond or a Drinmore.
The connections of these horses are entitled to believe that should they be good enough to compete at Grade 1 level they will do so for a level of prize money that is commensurate with campaigning at the highest level.
Thus it is somewhat disheartening to see that the money on offer for some of the country’s Grade 1 prizes does not compare well historically.
Undeniably the situation in Ireland as regards prize money is far better than it is in Britain, but when it comes to comparisons perhaps some historical perspective is required as well. Indeed, there are times when a look back to the past might be a better measure of where we are rather than looking across the Irish Sea which might lend a false sense of security to one’s observations.