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Let’s marvel at rather than envy the brilliance of our top trainers

Punchestown this afternoon will bring the curtain down on another racing year before all the madness of counting the hours, minutes, and seconds to midnight begin. Some people will look upon tomorrow as a fresh start, and others will be hoping for a change in fortune, but chances are when the clock strikes midnight, all will be the same.

When everyone heads to Fairyhouse or Tramore tomorrow, they will undoubtedly be in horse racing anyway. The wheels will turn relentlessly towards the spring National Hunt festivals as the juggernaut Irish racing has become gains steady momentum to steamroll through 2023 as it did in 2022. For some, the turn of the last millennium will seem like a lifetime ago. Still, less than a quarter of a way through this century, never mind millennium, National Hunt racing here is unrecognisable.

We always had the talent, both human and equine, for this sport but rarely had the financial investment here to stop us from having to export the top talent. Perhaps we did in the 60s but not to this level, and yet you can’t help wondering if we truly appreciate the dominance, the brilliance, and the heights our top outfits are scaling. Grand Nationals, Gold Cups, and Champion Hurdles are almost expected rather than hoped for — and what a change that is!

Horses end up where the influential owners decide to place them, and jockeys follow horses. In my lifetime, that saw Richard Dunwoody, Adrian Maguire, Norman Williamson, and Anthony McCoy, to name a few, emigrate to the UK to chase the best steeds in the most significant UK yards.

Paul Carberry, Barry Geraghty, Davy Russell, and I had a go, too, but got the chance to make a considerable U-turn as the tide turned when the better horses started to be on this side of the Irish Sea.

One couldn’t possibly see Paul Townend, Jack Kennedy, Rachael Blackmore, Mark Walsh, and Danny Mullins or even the next generation of Jordan Gainford and Sam Ewing even contemplating such a move. Someday the latter two might.

I know a few still did, but only so many fish can feed in one pond, and its growth in investment with Irish trainers which has kept or brought the best horses here that have allowed the best jockeys to stay.

What those trainers are doing is simply remarkable. Some bemoan the dominance and will say I have one foot in the biggest camp, so it’s easy for me to say. If that’s how you feel, fair enough. Still, it won’t stop me from marveling at the continuous growth of the top rung as one drives the other to maintain the upward spiral of the sport while dragging so many with them.

I am a trainer’s son who became a jockey, and your youth shapes your life. I know the perils and pressure of training racehorses, but understanding where Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott, and Henry de Bromhead are is almost stifling. Massive employers bring many families burdens on their shoulders to pay wages. They have become industries of their own in Carlow, Meath, and Waterford.

The outgoing figures to meet supplier payments for feed, rates, hay, bedding, and gallop maintenance make the margins tight. Income from investors in the yard is not as regulated as your standard car or shopping payments. Credit still exists in this world, and investors are only for the horses, not the business.

The only advertisement to draw investment is success, but that takes work and maximising the talent of your stock. It’s a skill, and right now, on these shores, we have one of the greatest ever being pushed along by a pair with the ambition to be him. Lurking behind them is a generation wanting to be him and, as always will be, we have those swimming in the same pool who will never be him but won’t miss the bull’s eye if an arrow appears in their bow.

The sheer scale of where they have gone in National Hunt racing is mind-blowing. Their Flat counterparts run very different businesses, based on turnover, with a global export reach or the making of stallions and broodmares but always with an end product to sell.

That’s Flat, where we have no talent shortage, but it hardly surprises the brightest young talent we have, Joseph O’Brien, plays in one but only dabbles in the other. Jumping rarely has that out, where it’s longevity and team management for as long as possible.

School principals can manage hundreds of kids but are only responsible for them from 9-4pm, Monday to Friday. Hotel managers have to cater for hundreds of guests but don’t need to worry about where they will work. Sports coaches have to train and maximise players’ talents but don’t have to find the money to pay wages, so they can mind themselves or pay people to cater for their every need.

I know they have teams of people working with them to do a lot of work for them, but it’s not Manchester United, Munster rugby or Kerry on the programme. It’s WP Mullins, G Elliott, and H De Bromhead. They are clubs and companies with no county board, CEO, or director to come and go. They are the attraction and the brand, but they won’t last forever.

They brought massive success to this sport in 2022 and will do so in 2023 and 2024. Beyond that, nobody knows where the talent stock will end up. They know it, too, and are sourcing that far ahead. They are driven, but we should marvel at rather than envy the brilliance because all good things come to an end. 2023 will be great, so enjoy it because before we know it, we will wonder where it all went.


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