Following the Irish rout at last week’s Cheltenham Festival, the British have been left scratching their heads as to what went so badly wrong.
Rachael Blackmore alone, won more races than the entire British cohort, with the Prestbury Cup score ending with an embarrassing five British winners – while Blackmore contributed six to Ireland’s record 23 successes.
Only two of the 15 Grade 1 races, over the four days, went the way of the British – with Chantry House’s victory in Thursday’s Marsh Novices’ Chase coming at the expense of most peoples festival banker, the Irish-trained Envoi Allen, who took an uncharacteristic tumble at the fourth – his first blemish in a career consisting of 11 starts and 11 wins under rules prior to the race.
Shishkin, the only other Grade 1 winner for the hosts – also saddled by Nicky Henderson – would perhaps have still won if I trained him myself, such is his undeniable talent and the fact that he was found in a race where he only had four inferior rivals to beat.
If you take a look at the way the Irish trainers campaign their best horses throughout the season – they shy away from nothing. British trainers seem to spend too much time worrying about avoiding their competition.
Racing isn’t all about remaining unbeaten. Ultimately, you will be judged on your success where it matters, and Cheltenham is the place where champions are crowned and horses names are etched into the history books.
Throughout the Irish racing calendar, we see the best of the Irish yards’ horses pitted against each other. Win or lose, they are gaining invaluable race experience at the top level.
The lack of runners we see line up at British meetings, particularly the way fields are cut up in big races, really isn’t helping the best horses progress. They need to be matched up with the best, and learn what it’s really like to compete in a hot race, ahead of the hottest races in the sport.
To me, in order to be the best, you’ve got to race the best.
Take my weightlifting analogy for example…
You could go into the gym, put weights that are a very low percentage of your maximum lifting capacity, lift it 100 times and say “well, didn’t I look good today” – or something along the lines. When it comes to the competition, against those who have been lifting heavy weights – even if they failed on their reps at first – who is going to be better equipped to lift more on the day?
My final thought comes down to the good old saying – ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. If the British really want to catch up with the Irish – they need to send more horses across the water, to their big meetings. Make the likes of Punchestown a place for the Brits to compete against their biggest rivals, like Cheltenham is for the Irish.