Crowd control in Ireland; Irish horses head to Cheltenham


Edward Brady

AS I wrote in my last column, we thought that the big Leopardstown Christmas Festival would be allowed a crowd of 10,000, which was well down from the crowd in 2019. Then it was suggested that there would only be between 4000 and 6000 punters allowed in. As it turned out, no people were allowed in at all!

Leopardstown Racecourse’s Chief Executive, Tim Husbands (above), defended the decision to run the festival behind closed doors and said the move also protected the integrity of racing over the festive period. Husbands made the call on Christmas Eve to prevent the public from attending the four-day festival due to a lack of staff—despite the government guidelines permitting 5000 people to attend—and he remained adamant it was the right decision.

“The cases were rising rapidly both nationally and locally and we had no option,” Husbands said. When asked how many staff he was without, he replied: “We would normally have in or around 80 working at a Christmas Festival, but we were down to 25 available to us. As regards our core staff based here at Leopardstown, we were reduced to six from 16.”

Hopefully it will be different next Christmas!

It looks like Ireland have all the best horses at Cheltenham again this year. Shishkin seems to be all that is standing between Ireland and another clean sweep of the Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase and Gold Cup. That’s what the markets are saying of the 39 British-based entries in the three aforementioned races. Last year’s runaway Arkle winner is the only member of the home team currently at a single figure price in the Champion Chase.

The top five in the Gold Cup market are all Irish and now that Shishkin is not among the Ryanair entries, the top four in this race are Irish too. Ireland has won five in the last six runnings of the Gold Cup and five of the last runnings in the Ryanair Chase as well. The exceptions being Native River in the 2019 Gold Cup and Frodon in the 2019 Ryanair.
It’s not just the quality among the Irish horses, there’s quantity too. They have 14 of the 30 Gold Cup entries, 22 of the 36 Ryanair Chase entries and 11 of the 22 in the Champion Chase.

Willie Mullins is keeping all options open and Allaho is the only horse to hold an entry in the Champion Chase, Ryanair and Gold Cup. He’s around 9/4 to repeat this success in the Ryanair Chase. A Plus Tard is entering the Ryanair Chase. He had a run out recently. Allaho, meanwhile, is presently the favourite for the Ryanair Chase, which he won last year where he ran his rivals into the ground winning by 12 lengths.

Well, roll on Cheltenham and hopefully with big crowds and lots of Irish winners. I will update you on my fancies in next month’s edition!