HRI resists growing pressure to add more Dundalk fixtures
Horse Racing Ireland says further supplementary fixtures at Dundalk are unlikely this year despite the pressure-cooker situation that has built up for owners and trainers of lower-tier horses.
There has been a huge balloting problem in the low-grade handicaps at Dundalk and HRI responded this week by scheduling an additional fixture at the track next Wednesday, but director of racing Jason Morris has poured cold water on the prospects of more meetings being added to the programme.
The issue was highlighted in a recent social media thread involving many of the go-to trainers at the track.
Tom Mullins admits he was “playing devil’s advocate” after posting on Twitter an image of last Friday’s oversubscribed eight-race card with the caption “full house” but his tweet prompted some robust discussion, with Damian English, one of the leading trainers at Dundalk, among those calling for more fixtures.
English said: “It’s so hard to plan anything at this level because you're constantly second guessing when you're going to get a run and that makes things very difficult.
“It’s very frustrating for owners who may be planning on coming to see their horse run only to find they have been balloted out. It’s also difficult training the horse, as he or she may not be quite right when finally getting a chance to run. Something needs to be done.”
Despite already being over budget in terms of prize-money distribution this year, HRI responded to the demand for extra fixtures by scheduling next Wednesday's afternoon card, on which the majority of the races to be run will be handicaps for horses rated 40-65.
Further additional 2017 meetings are unlikely, according to Morris. “We took this measure of introducing an extra fixture at Dundalk next week despite the fact that we're already over budget as we're trying to respond to the needs of the horse population," he said.
“We have to be realistic about the amount of fixtures we can stage there. We have a minimum value of €10,000 per race and adding an extra meeting at Dundalk is quite an expensive proposition.
“We’ve always tried to maintain the prize-money at Dundalk at a level that is comparable to turf meetings and we want to make sure we continue to sustain that level of prize-money there.
“We're very proud of the levels of prize-money and that’s part of the reason why we have such a large amount of horses targeting these races – there’s a lot of prize-money to be won.”
He added: “Next week’s fixture should address these short-term concerns of the trainers and owners and if historical trends are anything to go by, hopefully things will abate in the January to March period.”
Mullins moved to clear up the motive behind his tweet. “My main concern was not really surrounding the amount of runners at Dundalk but more so the popularity of the place,” he said.
“It highlights the fact that the majority of smaller owners are choosing to get involved in Flat racing rather than over jumps.
“As far as I’m concerned, if it weren’t for JP McManus I would find it very difficult to survive, as it’s hard to attract smaller owners to National Hunt racing.”
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