IT was a fair old compelling week in the field of sport to provide much conversation over the last seven days.
Not the hand of God but the fist of Katie. That prolonged handshake of Cody’s. Ronnie’s minute long hug. And then those two dramatic Champions League semi-finals. Phew, can you have too much sport?
What struck me as a viewer was that this was just sport – when you are so used to engaging via racing channels and racing podcasts, it was almost a relief to have no constant betting ads, given that we see so much of racing though that window. All human life was here, the winners and the losers equally worthy.
Racing had a bit of a punch too, pardon the pun, last week with record attendance for the Friday at Punchestown and a lot of good feedback from the two Guineas days at Newmarket.
But there were a few points over the weekend to reflect on, in the context of where racing fits in sport and daily lives. And they also highlight the worrying continued divisions in the sport. What the racecourse offers in terms of entertainment is becoming more into focus when compared to the wider sports’ arena.
Punchestown received lots of good comments from UK visitors. Leading tipster Paul Kealy wrote on the differences between our festival and those in Britain.
“If you haven’t been to the Punchestown festival, I suggest you put it on your bucket list and get there when you can. It’s true there are some average races and that some of the Grade 1s feature small fields with short-priced favourites, but is that much different from Cheltenham these days?
Punchestown last week was a breath of fresh air, and when I left I was in no doubt that I would do whatever I could to go back again next year.”
Alongside the record attendance though, the betting figures showed a Tote aggregate of €620,595 on Thursday for 21,357 present. While Friday’s total was €524,832 for the 40,984 in attendance. The Friday was a different occasion, but perhaps not to be taken in isolation as a reflection of all being well.
There were comments on some podcasts that there was less of an appreciation for Honeysuckle from the stands after she continued her unbeaten run, albeit against poor opposition.
Racing needs new blood, it needs all the increases in attendance figures it can get. But there was more to reflect on this week.
You can feel there’s a continued lack of understanding and appreciation of the new to the old. On the ‘new’ side there is the scoffing at the toffs at Royal Ascot, the tweeds at Cheltenham, while the ‘old’ are forcing things like dress codes and pointing fingers at more modern dress – the sockless brigade.
Fit that all into the big mix this week with the announcement that Robert Tyner was stopping training – because it had become simply too hard a way of life.
British trainer Martin Bosley had outlined the same reasons on the Luck On Sunday show recently for packing it in – it was too hard when you were getting older and had to do so much yourself.
What gets missed most of the time, in pursuing new angles, is that there would be nothing without their like. Spotlight too the stud farms foaling and nurturing the next generation of horses, the time, effort and emotions on the line. The loss of broodmares Magic Of Light and Shastye, away from the racecourse and betting rings, gave some of us a brief insight into that world this week.
All the highs and lows of those, long at the core of the sport, could not be better told than by Newsells Park’s Julian Dollar, reproduced on page 25.
Racing was a quick target in the early stages of the pandemic when the Cheltenham Festival – among many other events – took place in March 2020. “Damned if the horsey set – waxy of jacket, Range of Rover, tweedy of cap, jaunty of stride, always up for a stiff one, ….always slightly baffled by the fact that the entire world is not swooning over this filly of that four-year-old..” wrote one journalist, instigating a negative agenda.
It’s easily forgotten that those who make it their way of life contribute so much to the whole deal. And if those way of life people are getting tired of that way of life – then that is a big issue.
This weekend, the famed US trainer D Wayne Lukas saddles one of the favourites for the Kentucky Oaks at 86 years of age. It’s guys like Lukas, still with the passion that link back to the same desire we saw in Taylor and Cody.
Yes, we need new blood and ways to attract it, but we cannot lose the old desire. We need these guys even more than ever.