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Other SportsBest for business? The plans to curtail ‘super trainers’ in jumps racing

Best for business? The plans to curtail ‘super trainers’ in jumps racing

If we could cite one narrative looming large above all others in national hunt racing over the last few years, it would be the dominance of Irish trainers in the cross-channel events like Cheltenham and Aintree.

The zenith arguably came at Cheltenham 2022, where the Irish took 23 of the 28 races. It
set in motion a kind of existential crisis among British racing authorities.

And while the 2023 Cheltenham Festival wasn’t as bad a drubbing, with just 18 wins for Irish trainers, the trend has been abundantly clear.

Now, the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) has acted, or at least put some ideas into the arena. The most noteworthy is the plan to limit trainers to four entries in the major Class 1 and Class 2 handicaps, with the Aintree Grand National being the most notable example.

Back in 2019, the Irish trainer Gordon Elliott had 11 of the 40 runners in that race. So, limiting the Gigginstown stud trainer to just four would see some serious changes.

Super Trainers have dominated Cheltenham

Of course, much of this is not seen as pushing back against the dominance of Irish trainers, but instead pushing back against the dominance of ‘some’ Irish trainers, particularly Elliott and Willie Mullins, and, to an extent, Henry de Bromhead.

While other Irish trainers have popped up with big wins at Cheltenham and in other major festivals, it is those three ‘Super Trainers’ at whom the consensus believes this is aimed.

Right now, a look at the horse racing odds for Cheltenham 2024 would suggest that there is some merit in reining the Irish trainers. Mullins and Elliott have three of the four favorites for the feature races of the week.

Mullins, too, has several favorites dotted across the four days, and the big handicaps have been Elliot’s strength down the years.

Accusations of window dressing

Yet, there is a lot of pushback against the idea. For a start, some have described it as window dressing. It’s not going to stop any trainer from putting their best horses into a race.

Moreover, many of the horses qualify for the big handicaps like the Grand National on merit, thus the quality of the field will likely be diluted. If racing is deemed as a business, then the spectacle is not as good when superior horses don’t gain entry due to nationality.

Moreover, if you talk to those that matter – the punters and racegoers, they couldn’t care less about what it says on the horse’s passport. Perhaps the biggest criticism is that it does little to solve the problems facing British national hunt racing. These are fundamental problems, which touch on other areas like funding and investment in grassroots training and facilities.

One of the (many) reasons that Irish racing has been so strong in the 21st century is that it is treated like a national asset by the Irish government. Unfortunately,  that’s not the case in Britain at the moment.

While limiting the number of entries per trainer might give some chances to up-and-coming British trainers in events they would not usually qualify for, it seems that British racing might have to look at more fundamental areas.

Just over 20 years ago, the British were routinely hammering the Irish at Cheltenham, and British trainer Martin Pipe once held the record of 10 entries in the Grand National. It’s going to take more than entry limits to bring those days back.

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