Point-to-Point racing was dealt a hammer blow yesterday with the news that all fixtures have been suspended. Until now Point-to-Point racing was treated in the same way as horse racing.
Wexford is the epicenter of point-to-pointing in Ireland and is a multi-million euro industry within the county. There are over 700 horses in training throughout the county, with the top 4 hunts being based in Wexford:
We spoke to Denis Murphy, The Ballagh, earlier today. He has 70 horses (valued at €3 million) in training, employing 13 full-time people. Mostly four year old horses, they are due to make their debut in a few weeks:
“Point-to-Point have operated safely behind closed doors in Level 5. We didn’t see this coming, we got no warning.”
Mick Goff, Clondaw, Monageer, has 50 horses in training, and also has another 30 younger stock, employing 5 full time staff, with another 4 part-time.
“These are highly trained athletes, we can’t shut down, from a welfare point of view we will still need to train them. We specialize in producing four year old. They need to run to be sold.
I have sixteen five year olds, some of which were to run this weekend, if they can’t run soon, they will be totally devalued. It was extremely well run behind closed doors, and I’m not aware of any cases from point-to-pointing”
This move will have a massive knock on effect on the whole industry. If point-to-point trainers can’t sell horses, they wont have the same capital available to purchase 3 year olds for next season. This in turn has a knock-on effect on the price of foals. The thoroughbred industry is a huge employer.
Point-to-point is no longer elite according to the Government. But the reality would say differently.
The Cheltenham Festival is the Olympics of national hunt racing. Famous Gold Cup winners Best Mate and Denman both began their careers in point-to-points in Ireland. Let’s take a look at this years Festival from a Wexford perspective:
Envoi Allen won his maiden at Ballinaboola in 2018, trained by Colin Bowe, ridden by Barry O’Neill and was sold days later for £400,000 at Cheltenham. He is unbeaten in his 10 starts since, twice been successful at the Cheltenham Festival, he won the bumper in 2019, and the Ballymore last year. The Gordon Elliott trained horse is viewed by many as a banker.
Last years Supreme Novices winner, Shishkin, won his maiden in Lingstown in November 2018. Now trained by Nicky Henderson, he is odds on for this year’s Arkle at the Festival in March.
Cormac Doyle sold Monkfish for £235,000 following his maiden success in April 2018, now trained by Willie Mullins, successful in 5 of his 7 starts. He will likely go off as favourite for the RSA chase.
Co.Wexford is also home to some of the most successful point-to-point jockeys of all time. Jamie Codd, Barry O’Neill and Rob James all regularly hit the headlines for their exploits.
There is no doubt that elite horses take part in point-to-point racing. This had been recognised by government until yesterday. You’re more likely to see a Cheltenham winner in Lingstown on a Sunday afternoon, than you are in Bettyville on a Friday evening.
The Department of Agriculture issued a statement to the Governing body, saying that point-to-points “would not be included in the category of professional and elite sports permitted to continue behind closed doors”.
What has caused this u-turn by Government, to remove elite status from Point-to-Point racing?
One possible reason is the status of coursing. To understand why coursing is linked in the context of Covid19 to point-to-point racing some background is needed.
Horse racing, greyhound racing, point-to-point racing and coursing are sports involving the racing of horses and greyhounds. Under level 5 restrictions, all of these sports were allowed to proceed as elite sports. However, on Christmas Eve without warning or reason, coursing was removed from the elite list.
As a result, the Irish Coursing Club brought a case to the high court to seek a judicial review of the decision, claiming that they were being treated differently to other similar sports and that this amounted to discrimination.
The ICC claimed a number of issues:
- That when making his decision, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly consulted with Green Party Ministers Eamon Ryan and Catherine Martin, who are long time campaigners for coursing to be completely banned.
- They claim there was no consultation with either the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien, or the Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue. Coursing is under the remit of both of these Departments.
- The Judge who heard the case said it was a ‘mystery’ why the two Ministers in charge of coursing were not consulted.
- It was accepted by the court that there was a ‘perception of bias’ given that the only consultation was with two Ministers who want coursing banned outright.
Given the points above, the Irish Coursing Club appear to have a strong case. It is to be heard next week.
Has the Department of Agriculture, in advance of this court case, decided to suspend point-to-point racing to make it look like coursing was not being singled out?
This question is key to the whole affair.
Have Fianna Fail sacrificed point-to-point racing to cover up for allowing the Green Party to sabotage coursing whenever possible? Is it just a coincidence that point-to-point racing has been excluded from the elite list, just days before a high court case challenging the decision to ban coursing is heard?
Another possible factor is the CETA trade agreement (Canada European Trade Agreement). The Green Party were quite vocal in their opposition to this agreement. Subsequently, the planned vote was removed from the Dáil schedule in December and is due to be presented again later this month. Will the Greens now support this deal? If they do support it, what did they receive in return? Independent TD for Tipperary, Mattie McGrath has claimed that what they got in return was a suspension of coursing:
If the Government wanted to stop point-to-point racing for Covid related reasons, they could have used the excuse of hospital space, and the need for all medical people and equipment to be available.
The very many reasonable people within the point-to-point community could have understood this logic, even if they weren’t pleased by it. The Department did not use this as a reason however. It should be noted that this reason couldn’t be used to justify the continued suspension of coursing.
Are Fianna Fail using the guise of Covid19 restrictions to use coursing as a bargaining tool, to secure the Green Party’s support for CETA? Has point-to-point racing been caught in the subsequent cross-fire?