Monday, May 20, 2024

Kevin Black: ‘Irish dominance in horse-racing is not good for the sport’ | The Irish Post

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ITV pundit and horse racing expert Kevin Blake has claimed that Ireland’s stronghold on the sport of horse racing is not good for the industry.

The Irish have once again dominated at the Cheltenham Racing Festival, with the likes of Willie Mullins cleaning up with a number of his horses.

Before the festival started, the GB-trained runners were favourites to win just three out of 28 races. They did slightly better than that and won 9 races compared to Ireland’s 18 in the 27 races that took place.

It is always great to see Ireland become the king of a sport, but for some, it is not necessarily a good thing.

Kevin Blake, a horse racing expert, believes the Irish dominance is nice but admits it’s not healthy for the growth of the sport.

“As an Irishman, it makes you very proud of what we’re doing back home. It isn’t taken for granted. I’m too young to remember the late 1980s, when the Irish would come here and sometimes not have a winner at all. It hasn’t happened overnight,” he said this week.

“What we saw this week is not something that happened overnight, and Irish-trained horses have had more winners than British-trained horses at this meeting since 2016, and it’s gone terribly one-sided. I don’t think that’s healthy for anyone; it’s not healthy for Ireland. We rely heavily on the business on this side of the water too.”

There was a time when Ireland could only dream of a winner. During the 1980s, it was a dream to have an Irish-trained winner, but now it’s the opposite.

Blake believes that alarm bells should be ringing in British National Hunt Racing offices about Ireland’s chokehold in the sport.

“Some people in British National Hunt Racing don’t like to talk about this; they close their eyes, put their fingers in their ears, and hope things will get better, but that hasn’t been working. These things have to be talked about and discussed,” he added.

“If I’m involved in British Hunt Racing for a week like this, talk about red alarm bells ringing, and they should have been ringing years ago. We’re not perfect in Ireland, but there’s real trouble here.

For Blake, competitiveness is important, and changes need to come quickly if Britain wants to close the gap with Ireland. This starts with owners and trainers working on a proper programme.

“The panic button is definitely flashing. How can you say ‘who cares?’ We all care. We want to get our competitiveness back. We don’t want a huge dominance, not just from Ireland but from one yard. Don’t get me wrong, you have to praise Willie (Mullins) for what he has done, but it’s great for the sport to have competitiveness with so many connections winning.

There have got to be changes made. I think not only from buying the right types of horses but also from getting the right types of owners over here or starting them in the sport and keeping them here, but also from the programme; that’s a massive part of it. Over the next three days, I’m sure we’re going to be able to catch up, but I’m hoping we can close the gap a bit.”

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