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Dublin: 5°C Wednesday 3 March 2021

Kevin Doyle's €155,000 purchase of Altior's half-brother has grabbed headlines

There was drama involving the former Ireland and Premier League footballer at Fairyhouse this week, writes Johnny Ward.

IN THE WORDS of a cheesy old Guinness ad, now we have something to talk about — even if today’s pub, TV or no TV, is becoming a Starbucks with alcohol.

Racing is assured of nothing when it comes to media coverage and weeks like this one do it all manner of good.

Whilst it may be taken as granted that your daily will always include the racecard, that will not be the case. Before the paper itself becomes obsolete because people are coerced into doing everything on their phone, sports editors will decide that racecards take up too much space, space that could go to an ad; and punters know what is running anyway by looking at their phone.

Selling racing to the average sportsman remains a challenge, though perhaps a greater challenge is to get racing fans to actually go racing, as they can watch the races by looking at their phone. Be that as it may, we need people like Michael Owen and Kevin Doyle to get so deeply involved in the game as to them is the norm.

There was drama at Fairyhouse Tuesday evening when a Camelot half-brother to Altior was sold to former Irish international and Premier League star Doyle for €155,000 during the second foal session of the Tattersalls Ireland November National Hunt Sale, news you probably heard first by looking at your phone.

Okay, enough about the phone even if you are reading this on one, possibly on your own in a pub. Doyle’s purchase was headline grabbing. Buying a half-brother to a jumper by a Flat stallion as a foal for such money, without really having any idea of what ailments may befall the horse down the line (wind etc), is brave.

Doyle, however, is not short of cash; nor is he a fool. As of recent weeks, there are other owners who feel both like fools, short of cash, embellished by a fear as to whether or not they were an owner all along on account of the shambles that Supreme Racing has become.

Kevin Doyle horse 1 Doyle and his acquisition. Source: INPHO & Tattersalls Ireland

This took on another level of scandal Thursday when the racing club was barred from owning horses by Horse Racing Ireland after failing to engage with the governing body over allegations of overselling horses, including Cheltenham Gold Cup favourite Kemboy.

Comforting is that Kemboy has done nothing wrong and clearly will be allowed to race this season; the question is whose colours he will wear? The reputation of Supreme Racing is beyond redemption.

Supreme has chosen to be pretty silent on the matter — to the media and to Horse Racing Ireland — and silence speaks loudest of all; it is doing the club no favours whatever in terms of public perception.

Public perception has never mattered much to Michael O’Leary, or more accurately it long mattered more than nearly anything: for years he has ensured free publicity for Ryanair, though he has gotten to the point beyond where it was a question of life or death for a company he himself felt was a hopeless case, only for Tony Ryan to persevere.

O’Leary is to exit racing but for now he perseveres too. His bizarre demotion of Davy Russell in the Gigginstown pecking order has been the main jumps talking point of recent months and O’Leary broke his silence on the matter in an interview with the Racing Post this week, making a fair bit of sense, sometimes.

Essentially, O’Leary said there was not much point Russell steering horses now that he would not be riding at Cheltenham. A great deal of what O’Leary says is at once questionable but has merit, including the remark that Russell would certainly be riding Presenting Percy over Delta Work at Cheltenham (many bookmakers make the latter a shorter price).

An apparent rift between Davy Russell and Gigginstown appears to have been resolved after Eddie O’Leary confirmed the jockey would ride the ownership giant’s horses at Punchestown this weekend.

On Friday, O’Leary said: “Davy Russell is riding for us this weekend. We’ve all had a chat and he is back on for us now. We don’t retain Davy or anyone, and when Jack Kennedy is back we will be using him, Davy, Sean Flanagan, Rachael Blackmore, Mark Walsh, Robbie Power – the best available. A panel of jockeys.”

He also went on a rant about Tiger Roll’s weight in the Grand National, supposing a nexus between that and the chance of him sustaining a fatal injury. O’Leary would have plenty of runners in the Ludicrous Stakes down the years, this one liable to be at the front of the betting, which is saying something.

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So Tiger Roll, one of the most perversely brilliant jumpers of all time, was in the news many months before a historic Grand National bid, the attraction of which only his owner seems to have an issue with. Tiger Roll was back in the news Thursday, Gordon Elliott revealing a setback.

We take what we want from these big stories, good and bad, but there was nothing but good about Douvan’s return to action at Clonmel yesterday. Douvan is not unlike Michael Owen in that he was amazing earlier in his career but never the same for most of it because of injury, yet what he did under Paul Townend suggested that he could remain a major force in a two-mile chasing division that is not exactly laden with stars this season.

paul-townend-with-douvan-after-winning-the-race Paul Townend with Douvan at Clonmel yesterday. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Mullins could hold the key to that division, having many people’s idea of the Queen Mother winner in Chacun Pour Soi, but I am not even sure Mullins is as happy at the moment with the season about to take shape as Gordon Elliott is.

Elliott may have concerns about the potentially sensational Malone Road (not seen in a year) but the hurdling performances so far of fellow novices Andy Dufresne and Envoi Allen have been nothing short of frightening, not to mind what Fury Road and Abracadabras have done in the colours of O’Leary, even without the help of Russell.

Also in November, we bore witness to Honeysuckle’s rampant reappearance, taunting her highly talented male rivals, their only crumb of comfort that it is easier dealing with a tease such as Honeysuckle having been gelded.

In ‘Another September’, the poet recalls his “dreams fled away”, recounting his struggle with the oncoming winter. Whatever of September, November can be a tough month.

A wanted friend who has an unwanted friend called depression says it comes around without fail every November. The prospect of Christmas is anything but a good thing, the only thing being Christmas entails Leopardstown, Kempton and top-class sport of National Hunt racing. And my friend lives for racing and sport.

Sport is at once the great triviality and something to keep you going. The weather has been horrendous at times but we have had lots to talk about, and many performances of virtuosity.

Another September was written by Thomas Kinsella, who is still going strong in his 90s. He has seen many winters come and go. You need something to look forward to, like Faugheen’s chase debut in the Naas Oil Beginners Steeplechase (12.50) tomorrow, but Dommage Pour Toi is readily preferred for Henry De Bromhead, who has more than Honeysuckle to keep him interested this winter.

Another hugely exciting Gigginstown/Elliott novice, Battleoverdoyen, looks a good thing in the Liam & Valerie Brennan Memorial Florida Pearl Novice Steeplechase (2.50) at Punchestown Sunday.

There may be many long nights ahead but there is always sport and, having had a nice winner last week at Dundalk, we will attempt to again with Footie, a 50/1 chance with Betway in tonight’s Christmas Party Nights At Dundalk Nursery Handicap (8.15).

Winners, like Michael O’Leary, can make life easier too.

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About the author:

Johnny Ward

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