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*Opinion* Davy Russell: ‘Throwing more money at the top of the sport isn’t how to fix it’



*Opinion* Davy Russell: ‘Throwing more money at the top of the sport isn’t how to fix it’

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  • Retired three-time Irish champion jockey Davy Russell slams the negativity surrounding the state of jump racing in England

    I’ve heard so much negativity about racing being in disarray recently, and it hit fever pitch at the Cheltenham Festival, where everybody seemed to have a bad news story. But within the sport, it feels the complete opposite and that makes it hard to listen to.

    At the Festival last week, we saw some brilliant horses, fantastic training performances and top-notch jockeys. Maybe the Queen Mother Champion Chase wasn’t the most competitive race in the world, but these contests always go through phases. It’s the same with the Champion Hurdle, where it’s notoriously hard for three or four top-class hurdlers to hit at one time.

    The racecourse seemed full enough, there was a great atmosphere and yet people kept banging on about racing not being in a good place because for the first two days, the Irish kept winning. But that totally changed on Thursday, when Dan Skelton, Paul Nicholls, Ben Pauling and Jeremy Scott all flew the British flag and the success continued into Friday.

    Nicky Henderson had a frustrating week, running just 50% of his horses after concerns emerged about his stable’s form. He was in a difficult situation but he made the right decision not to run many of them. Had he been in the mix with his horses running up to scratch and, let’s say for argument’s sake, his red-hot favourites such as Constitution Hill and Sir Gino had won, we’d have been down to the nitty-gritty of British trainers performing very strongly indeed.

    Gold Cup glory

    Paul Townend created history when he joined Pat Taaffe as a winner of four Gold Cups and there’s a fair chance he’ll win another and break that record. It feels as though he’s often expected to win on Willie Mullins’ horses, but it’s not that easy, so I don’t think he gets the plaudits he deserves.

    Ben Jones, Danny Gilligan and John Dawson were some of the first-time Festival winners to catch my eye, and Dan Skelton put his hand up to say he’s more than just an up-and-coming trainer now – he’s a force to be reckoned with at the top level.

    An array of different owners and syndicates enjoyed huge success, with some expensive horses justifying their price tag. But while it was a pity €850 (£800) purchase Hewick didn’t run, there were plenty of cheap horses proving you don’t necessarily need a couple of hundred grand to buy a Cheltenham horse.

    Even JP McManus, who has invested in and plays a huge part in our industry, bred two Festival winners and that’s a huge feat.

    Doom and gloom?

    Julie Harrington, CEO of the British Horseracing Authority, was one to throw her opinion on the perceived doom and gloom surrounding the sport, and her solution to redress the Irish-British equilibrium was to throw more money at the top of the sport. But that’s not the right way to fix it.

    There is a lot of racing in England, and perhaps we need the majority of it, but if an owner, trainer or a syndicate goes to the races and doesn’t even cover their day’s costs in prize money, then you have a problem.

    It annoys me that in showjumping in Ireland, they throw money at the top end, but they put next to nothing into the middle to bottom end of the sport. Everyone is striving to get to the top, but only a small minority succeed.

    Showjumping is such a marvellous sport so we all continue to do it, and it’s the same for any equestrian discipline, including racing. But if anyone saw how much work I was doing with our showjumping ponies, all the money it costs and effort behind the scenes, literally for a rosette, they’d say I’d want my head examined!

    So if you throw money at the top end of racing, then the bottom end is going to fall under because no matter what walk of life you’re in, the foundations have to be built from the bottom. Everybody knows they’re not going to get rich from racing, but what they’d like is for it not to cost as much.

    If you’re putting a lot of money into it, having success yet still getting no return, that’s disheartening and that’s how you will very quickly lose people from the industry.

    ● Do you agree with Davy’s views on the state of the sport? Let us know at, including your name, nearest town and country, for the chance for your letter to appear in a forthcoming issue of the magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 14 March

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