End-of-season ratings emphasise Ireland’s dominance of jumps season
Ireland’s recent dominance of National Hunt racing was underlined once again on Tuesday when the official ratings for 2020-21 revealed that six of the top eight chasers last season, and nine of the top 12 hurdlers, were from Irish stables. While there was agreement among the handicappers that Ireland’s current superiority is overwhelming, however, there was a difference of opinion on how long it is likely to endure.
Irish-trained runners swept through the Cheltenham Festival in March, winning a record 23 of the 28 races including a dozen of the 14 Grade One events, despite making up just 40% of the starters.
Martin Greenwood, the British Horseracing Authority’s steeplechase team leader, suggested at a webinar to accompany the publiciation of the ratings on Tuesday that the situation is “cyclical”, and “the Irish have all the best horses, simple as that”.
Andrew Mealor, the hurdle team leader, also made the point that “a lot of the top British yards have not had particularly good seasons”, adding: “They’re the trainers where you expect your good horses to come from, if they’re not having a good season, it’s going to have a knock-on effect.”
Andrew “Sandy” Shaw, however, the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board’s senior jumps handicapper, pointed to structural differences between British and Irish racing that he feels could keep the home team on the back foot at Cheltenham and Aintree for years to come.
“I can’t emphasise enough that we have the best horses, first of all,” Shaw said. “I’m not saying that what’s left over goes to Britain, but you don’t get as many good horses as we do here.
“This reminds me of years ago, when all the best horses went to Britain. Most of them happen to be in Ireland now, and we’re lucky to be government-backed with our prize money. Everything’s fallen into place for us, really.
“I don’t know you can do really, you’re certainly going to have to ride out the storm anyway. I often say that if Pep Guardiola was put in charge of Scunthorpe tomorrow, they’re not going to win the Premier League because he can’t afford the best players at Scunthorpe.
“British trainers are in the same boat. They are as good as any in the world, but if they don’t have the ammunition, the horses and the money to buy them, they’re not going to win the Premier League, so to speak.”
One of the few beacons of hope for British jumping last season was Shishkin’s unbeaten first season over fences, which included Grade One wins at both the Cheltenham and Aintree Festivals.
It was not enough to secure him clear top spot in the two-mile novice chase ratings, however, as Willie Mullins’s Energumene, who was also unbeaten but a late absentee from a much-anticipated meeting with Shishkin at Cheltenham, rated his equal on a mark of 169.
The two novices were just 7lb behind Chacun Pour Soi, the season’s top-rated chaser at any distance, and 6lb behind Minella Indo, who led home an Irish-trained 1-2-3 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup.