Cooper heaps praise on HRI for helping the little guy as race programme extended
Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Tom Cooper has praised a programme designed to boost opportunities in Irish jump racing, saying it "gives the small guy a chance."
The trainer's positive endorsement comes as Horse Racing Ireland prepare to extend the programme into next year, with more chances being given to handlers outside the highest echelon to showcase their skills and, in the process, increase participation levels.
The extended HRI plans, which cover the schedule from January 1 to April 28, 2018, consist of 441 races with almost 80 per cent - 49 out of 62 - of the fixtures scheduled featuring a race worth at least €20,000. The remaining 13 fixtures will stage a contest worth at least €15,000.
Cooper, who has tasted Cheltenham Festival success with Forpadydeplasterer and Total Enjoyment, feels the restricted and auction maiden hurdles have been particularly helpful to trainers.
He said: "In races where horses who cost €30,000 or less are only permitted to run, that certainly gives you a chance and it's very good to see that it’s set to continue.
“The prize-money on offer for winning these races is also very good. I think it's great news - it gives the small guy a chance.”
The number of beginners and novice chases, as well as hurdles with rating caps, will also be increased, while there will be three new midweek fixtures between January and March at Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Leopardstown respectively.
Speaking about the new schedule, HRI’s director of racing, Jason Morris, said: “The period through to the Spring of 2018 will see the continuation of a series of race planning initiatives which were successfully introduced over the summer months.
“These measures and the addition of three new midweek cards will provide more competitive options for the middle to lower tiers of the horse population, as well as easing horses’ progression through the system."
Meanwhile, Morris has revealed his satisfaction that Irish jump racing has become more competitive throughout 2017, citing marginal increases in entries as well as field sizes in comparison to last year.
He said: “It has been pleasing to see the improved competitiveness of National Hunt racing so far this year.
“Comparing the period from the start of the year to November 21 for 2016 and 2017, the average entry in National Hunt races has increased from 21.5 to 22.1, while the average field size has risen from 11.2 to 11.5 runners.
Improved opportunities are not confined to owners and trainers as there will be additional races for riders who have yet to reach the ten-winner mark for the season.
The Weatherbys Ireland/ITBA Mares National Hunt Bonus Scheme has also been expanded to include a number of middle to lower tier handicap hurdle opportunities for mares, who may be entitled to avail of a €5,000 bonus if they have not previously won a maiden hurdle bonus.
Morris concluded: “HRI will also continue to provide a balanced race programme with an emphasis on quality, ensuring that at least ten per cent of National Hunt races offer black type in Ireland.”