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Dublin: 5 °C Sunday 24 March, 2019
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'The season has been a mess because of the weather' - tough going ahead of Dublin Racing Festival

Watering in January? Welcome to global warming, writes Johnny Ward in his first column for The42.

YESTERDAY MARKED THE 150th anniversary of the birth of one of racing’s greatest influences.

Born in Turin, Federico Tesio was unique, self-made and indifferent to conventional conceptions.

A one-man operation, he devised all his stud’s matings without outside influence, later training the progeny.

Tesio bred, owned and trained 22 winners of the Italian Derby but his influence spread far beyond his homeland. He has even been canonised as “the only genius ever to operate in the breeding world”.

Tesio first came to my attention due to his appraisal which today, a century after he was somewhere in the middle of his career, seems as relevant as ever.

“The thoroughbred exists,” he said, “because its selection has depended not on experts, technicians nor zoologists – but on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby.”

Tesio lived through fascism and Mussolini, World War II and his country’s eventual recovery from the incompetence of Il Duce. His death in 1954 preceded the debut of Ribot, a horse later hailed as his “masterpiece”.

Horsemen rise early. How many beautiful dawns would Tesio have enjoyed on his Italian farm? Likely even he would have been mystified had an Italian Doc Brown happened upon him and warned of the greatest threat to racing and humanity itself: global warming.

What does it say about the world that its most intelligent species is the only one knowingly destroying it? It seems absurdly trivial to belittle climate change by framing it in the context of a peripheral sport, yet we all toil in some cocoon or other and horsemen and women must be fearing the apocalypse.

The Dublin Racing Festival – its second running next weekend – was launched Wednesday at Leopardstown. Twelve months ago, the main trainers present brought horses to gallop at the track, the purpose of which is 99 percent PR.

Henry De Bromhead, Joseph O'Brien, Jessica Harrington, Gordon Elliott and Noel Meade Henry De Bromhead, Joseph O'Brien, Jessica Harrington, Gordon Elliott and Noel Meade this week. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The gallop pivot was conspicuously absent this time around. The equivalent of a player having a warm-up before being sprung off the bench, trainers were nevertheless reluctant to even gallop their horses on the prevailing terrain in Foxrock on Wednesday.

Trainer Noel Meade, one of those present, was succinct: “The season has been a mess because of the weather.” Jessica Harrington, like Tesio something of a racing legend, noted that Thurles had “firm in the going description – unheard of at this time of year,” prior to its meet Sunday.

It was expected that Willie Mullins would be there; for whatever reason he wasn’t. The great man, speaking to Gary O’Brien earlier this week on Racing TV, gave every indication of a man fed up, admitting that any winner was welcome at the moment.

Mullins has had a spate of fancied horses beaten over the past four weeks, while the ground has meant that a scatter of his steeds remain at home in their stables, as the rain refuses to arrive.

Willie Mullins Willie Mullins. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Incredibly, Met Eireann’s Paul Moore told The42 that 2018 was not as remarkable as it seemed. “Though the rainfall was below average at two-thirds of our stations. mainly due the very dry summer, there were other months such as April and November that had above-average rainfall that brought the totals up – and meant overall it wasn’t exceptionally dry anywhere for the year overall.”

Frank Berry, racing manager to JP McManus, speaks for many. “Look around all the yards and you’ll see horses mad-waiting for rain.”

And yet, as far as being a jumps trainer or owner of a soft-ground horse, there is now the very real prospect of an entire season without proper heavy going, a costly calamity for many (training fees are roughly €1,200 per month before add-ons, which can easily bring a bill north of €2,000).

Speaking at the Leopardstown launch, former jockey Lorcan Wyer – who gives the impression that a two-hour appraisal of the going at any given track on any given day would be no burden – seemed borderline ebullient that 40-50mls of rain is due between now and Saturday’s opening of the two-day fixture.

Even that will have a negligible impact. One leading owner made the point that more pressure needs to be put on racecourses to spray their own water on the track artificially – watering in January. Welcome to global warming.

A leading online tipster based in Britain, meanwhile, has tipped Nisior Donn in the 6.30 Dundalk (Friday) – where they need not worry about rain or otherwise, as the surface is artificial. She has a solid chance but her price shortening is helping the each-way odds of Gougane Barra, who makes plenty of appeal for Michael Halford and Shane Foley at around 8/1.

Willie Mullins has runners in just three Irish races over the weekend’s two meetings – very much due to the ground. One, Camelia De Cotte, should beat Tell Me Annie based on their Cork clash late last year, but Declan Queally’s mare looks the value at Thurles on Sunday (2.40).

Queally may be no Tesio – but he knows how to train, whatever his views are on climate change.

Ahead of the final weekend of European pool games, Murray Kinsella, Andy Dunne and Gavan Casey look at what each of the provinces can expect, and who impressed last weekend:


Source: Heineken Rugby Weekly on The42/SoundCloud

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