The sponsorship of trainers and jockeys by betting companies became a hot button topic again last week and it is something I have mixed feelings on.
A few demand an end to the practice, seeing it as presenting a negative perception of integrity in a sport long dogged with such concerns and perhaps there is some truth in that; for some, what something looks like is what it is.
Yet to present this as a serious integrity problem where there are real concerns in that area might be a mistake. It seems unlikely that any bookmaker is using the content by the various ambassadors (though that is a term that might want changing, this is sponsorship, plain and simple) as a meaningful part of their approach to trading.
Rather the angle for betting companies is one of branding. Associating yourself with a successful participant in racing from Ruby Walsh to Robbie Power to Joseph O’Brien to Jessica Harrington reflects well on your brand and that is something worth paying for.
Nor would I begrudge any jockey making extra money outside the bread-and-butter of their profession. Theirs is a tough gig, not only regarding their health, but they are also vulnerable to whims of more powerful forces, trainer and owners who can drop them in an instant. Admittedly, it is only the top jockeys who these firms are interested in but even they are subject to precarious employment conditions, Davy Russell’s on-off relationship with Gigginstown just one example that springs to mind.
One might have less sympathy for trainers looking for extra income but it is worth pointing out that some of them do say interesting things about their horses in their various blogs and via this medium Gordon Elliott, Joseph O’Brien and Jessica Harrington provide comments on all their weekend runners throughout the national hunt season, something that isn’t available elsewhere.
There is a broader point about trainer comments and the dissemination of information through the modern racing media to be made here. Racing may once have been covered in a traditional way when everything you needed to know could be found in the trade paper or across the various racing programmes but those days have gone the way of a TV set with only six terrestrial channels.
Information about racing, particularly comments from trainers and jockeys, are everywhere from all the traditional papers and websites to sponsored blogs to podcasts to social media citizen journalism clips and so on.
Much of what is said may be of little use, the content often vanilla in flavour, but you never know when someone will drop in something of significance. The modern punter must be a newshound and marrying some of these comments with a broader knowledge of the form seems likely to have betting utility.
A recent high-profile example and one that many will have read about over the weekend was Paul Nicholls about Frodon on his Betfair blog, the trainer saying that his charge ‘had grade 4 ulcers [after Haydock] which is as bad as it gets’ and that he had been treated for them since.
On other occasions, the important information will be hidden away on a less often-frequented corner of the internet. Gordon Elliott was interviewed by Johnny Ward on RacingTV’s ‘On The Wire’ podcast prior to his run in the Drinmore at Fairyhouse with the trainer commenting that Samcro ‘is on the nebuliser the whole time.’
A few better informed racing people than me have pointed out that this is not all that unusual but coupling that with Samcro’s new outdoor stable and how he finishes out his races would make you question whether he is a horse with an underlying breathing issue.
Another interesting example pertains to the fitness of Envoi Allen at Naas the Sunday before last. Gordon Elliott’s unbeaten star put in a performance that could be picked at – as Kevin Blake has done well in his column ‘The Flip Side’ elsewhere on the site – with neither the time nor the visuals as impressive as his previous runs.
But was he really tuned for this race? Keith Donoghue, jockey but more importantly one of Elliott’s assistants, commented in his bookmakers.co.uk blog that Envoi Allen ‘had only done really one piece of major work between his last two runs as we wanted to keep him fresh for the rest of the season.’
That puts a different slant on his performance and this could be seen as smart long-term training by Elliott; Envoi Allen had a tough season in 2018/19, running in four bumpers, and having him hard-fit in early-January with bigger and more important targets to come later on would be short-term thinking.
Digging through all this content can be tedious with trainers and jockeys often repeating themselves but every now and then there can be a gem for all that we may not like it coming on a bookmaker-sponsored blog.
Dublin Racing Festival
Entries for the Grade 1 races at the Dublin Racing Festival next month were released on Monday and there were some interesting names absent and present.
There was no Saldier in the Irish Champion Hurdle, that one set to go to Cheltenham without a run since his Morgiana win in November; he would not be one to get involved with ante-post for all that recent reports have been positive and there seems no reason his price should shorten much if at all in the coming weeks.
Darasso is in the Irish Champion Hurdle however, connections seemingly keen to try this route even though they have Epatante; the ground having foiled their Christmas plans when he had been supplemented for the equivalent race before being taken out on day.
Al Boum Photo was not given an entry for the Irish Gold Cup which was a little surprising despite the stated aim he would head to Cheltenham directly after Tramore, the yard typically covering all eventualities that way.
That leaves the way clear for Kemboy to be the stable number one and while his Christmas run disappointed some he has the right profile for the race; since 1999, Mullins has had 13 horses go directly from what is now the Savills Chase to the Irish Gold Cup with six winning and another two finishing second. Improvement from his last run seems likely.
In the novice division, Unexcepted was left out of the longer 2m6f race and entered in the 2m contest, perhaps confirming the belief that he did not stay over two-and-a-half miles at Limerick last time.
The Irish four-year-old hurdlers continue to look a moderate crop outside of Aspire Tower though Rayapour was an interesting entry for Mullins in the Spring Juvenile. Owned by the McNeill family, he is yet to run over sticks but Timeform rated him 100 on the flat in France.