Punchestown has been providing us with some impressive racing the last few days, so it really disappoints me to see one of the main races of the Festival attracting only 3 horses, where the pot is 200k and pays all the way down to 6th place.
OK so the race has attracted Hurricane Fly and Jezki. But the race cannot be taken seriously. Steps To Freedom is completely out of his league, not even good enough to win a grade 3 race. We know why he is in thereand that is something i will speak off later. This is effectively a 2 horse race.
This race isn't unusual in fact several Grade 1 races have been run with fewer than 5 runners. This is a Champion Hurdle, it should be attracting the best horses in the UK and Ireland. So why isn't it? Is it because the season is at an end and most the horses have had heavy campaigns. or is it because there are not good enough horses at this level? or maybe the prize money is not good enough.
Something surely needs to be done to change this? Races like this means that the result may not be a true one. Small fields can mean a false pace, not suiting some. This race for example Jezki needs a strong pace, where as i think Hurricane Fly is probably best off a slower pace. This is why Step To Freedom is entered, to make sure they go a good gallop. The last 2 times in Ireland these two met were 4 and 5 runner races. This played to Hurricane Flys strength but not so much to Jezki's and Jezki even came last in one of them, because the pace was not quick enough for him. When they met in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, the pace was quick and Jezki settled and won, where as Hurricane Fly came 3rd. There were 8 horses in the race there.
This is also one of the reason there were some doubts about Hurricane Fly and how good he really is.
Since the 2012 Champion Hurdle The Fly had 4 races before the 2013 Champion Hurdle. He faced 13 opponents.
Of those opponents he raced 2 of them 3 times each. So that was actually just 9 horses he raced.
4 of those 9 were Mullins horses leaving 5 REAL opponents.
In one race The Irish Champion Hurdle, it was a 4 runner race. 3 of those were Willie Mullins horses, and his only real opponent was rated 21lb behind him the in the handicap.
The other 2 Mullins horses were rate 9lb and 11lb behind him. So all 3 horses would have to improve a lot before getting close. In the end he beat a horse rated 11lb lower than him by only 2 and a half lengths. Not very impressive. Of that race the Real opponent took home 4k in prize money and Willie who's horses filled the first 3 took home 117k.
Compare that to Rock On Ruby, who came out of the 2011 Champion Hurdle racing 3 times in that year facing 16 horses and only one of those he met twice.
Of Hurricane Flys 19 Grade 1 wins, 10 of those he faced 4 or less opponents. I was one of those doubters until i saw him run in the 20123 Champion Hurdle and he beat some very good horses. And i really saw that the horse was deserving of his Champion title. He is a duel winner of a Champion Hurdle and has come 3rd and 4th. That's an amazing achievement.
My point to this is, Hurricane Fly is one of the best hurdlers of his generation but there have been doubts to how good he is because of some of the races he has won. Surely you want to see him constantly race in big fields and beat the best time and time again. instead of beating 2 stable mates and a horse who is there just to steal some prize money.
When you look at these big races attracting such small fields and then you look at a Class 5 or 6 race at a small meeting, who's winning's hardly cover the cost of the expenses in getting there is a joke. But the horse lines up against 10 others, it's impossible to see the justice. The smaller yards are struggling because the prize money is so poor.
If a race such as a Grade 1 can only attract 3 horses there is 12k in todays race alone that is not being picked up by anyone, so can that money not be put in to boost the prize money of a smaller race. For example today 7:50 Bangor there is a 2m 1f Handicap Hurdle. & runners are declared. 5k is the prize fund, the prize money for coming 5th in todays race is more than winning this Class 4 race at Bangor, the winner getting only £3k whilst 2nd place a measly £954, 3rd £477.00 4th £238.50, if there was any race that should be 3 runners then it's this race. That 12k should be spread added to a race like this. Improve prize money of the smaller races and on Grade or Group 1 races where the field is less than 6 then any prize money not given out should be moved to a low class race. Or offer a bonus for races with more than 6 runners.
Whatever is done, it needs doing soon as small field is making a mockery of Horse Racing.