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Big Turnout for Handlers Association Meeting

Big Turnout for Handlers Association Meeting

The Irish point-to-point handlers association is now established over a year and within that very short time period has already been busy on the ground. Ahead of the new season, the association convened an open meeting for point-to-point handlers at the Horse & Jockey Hotel in Co. Tipperary on Wednesday last to gauge opinion amongst handlers on the present situation within point-to-point racing.

There was a good turnout at the meeting with many of the leading handlers in attendance, including Colin Bowe, Donnchadh Doyle, Aidan Fitzgerald, ‘Shark’ Hanlon, John Gleeson, Mick Winters, James Sheehan, Robert Tyner, Paurick O’Connor, Jimmy Mangan and James Doyle amongst others.

Commencing the meeting, handlers Gerry Kelleher and Eugene O’Sullivan, alongside regional secretary Frankie Ward, who were sat at the top table and had been instrumental in the establishment of the association, provided an update on the progress which they had made to date.
 
They informed the assembled audience that within their first year, they had campaigned for additional funding via meetings and lobbying of Horse Racing Ireland and Minister Michael Creed of the Department of Agriculture and the Marine. The prize money increase which was announced last December by Horse Racing Ireland was welcomed as a positive step forward, but the association has hopes that further increases will follow.

Alongside lobbying for those prize money increases, the association also met the Turf Club within the last year to discuss many of the handler’s concerns, whilst they also ran a point-to-point at Dromahane on the blank Sunday in May which had been left vacant by the cancellation of the Killeady fixture in Ballyarthur. They reported that it was a busy day with plenty of runners and a good crowd in attendance enabling them to provide a contribution to the Injured Jockeys Fund.
 
Following the update from the association, the floor was opened for further discussion over a range of issues, many of which were submitted in advance of the meeting for discussion. The matters debated ranged from the new hunter certificate system, handler’s licenses, prize money, race planning and much more.
 
There was a call for handler’s licenses to allow them to make entries for Hunter Chases or point-to-point bumpers in the same way as this is currently allowed in the UK. Various systems of controlling the horses and handlers in a stable yard were discussed.

The new system of hunter certs was discussed which now requires handlers to have a Horse Racing Ireland account to ensure payments are processed. As part of these chances, handlers must now sign the hunter cert this year which is an extra requirement from previous years.

Whilst the prize money increase was welcomed, the current level of prize money is still below that of ten years ago, and it was strongly felt that further increases were required to encourage an owner or handler to keep a point-to-point horse in training for a season with the sense of there being a real potential reward should prize money be won.

In line with the wider funding increases which were announced back in December, the need to also canvas on behalf of the Hunt Clubs was also referenced in relation to the discussion on prize money. The importance of Hunt Clubs running meetings was acknowledged and every effort must be made to ensure that it is viable for them to continue to do so. Some handlers had left prize money with the hunts last season and this was a notable benefit to the hunts where it had happened and was very much appreciated.  It was also stated at the meeting that the funding for Hunt Clubs is less than it is for the Turf Club to run a meeting, and it was noted from the discussions that this balance should sway in the other direction.

There were two issues discussed in relation to open horses, firstly the caliber of high class horses returning to point-to-points, and secondly, the instances of some horses winning a large number of races in a season. Some felt that high class horses should not be allowed to return to point-to-points, whilst others noted that they had not managed to dominate when they did come back to points. Horses such as First Lieutenant and Sir Des Champs failed to make much of an impact in terms of race wins, whilst Foxrock and others went Hunter Chasing after a very short time in opens. Those that did dominate included Sprintingforgold, who started the season as a maiden in all spheres and Ourmanmassini, who was a relatively lowly rated horse 12-months ago. There was mixed views as to what the right course of action was to look at these issues, but it seemed as though the possible best solution would be to have some open’s restricted to non-Listed or Graded winners in order to give true point-to-pointers who are making their way up through the ranks a chance to progress.

The issues of race planning is one that is regularly raised at many point-to-point meetings. Ahead of the new season, it was noted that there are three four-year-old mares’ maidens set to take place on the same day this autumn. It was queried whether hunts are advised of such obviously inappropriate clashes to see if they wish to change. There was general agreement that a hunt should be allowed to choose which races they wish to run, but that they should be made aware of clashes which could have a notable impact on the likely number of entries they are set to receive as this could improve the races available for handlers.

On the slightly related issue of race programmes, there was some discussion on the potential of opening confined races up to four-year-old’s, but there was no hunger for this to take place amongst those in attendance.

It was queried where the €10 which is taken from each entry for an injured jockeys fund was going and how much was actually in the fund now.  There were also queries as to whether this money was available to amateurs and in what circumstances.

The need to encourage more people to keep horses for older maidens was discussed. Acknowledging that they were in short supply, further efforts needed to be made to promote them with it being felt that a race series focusing on this age grouping was ideal. It was agreed that these races were the best option for novice riders as they provide many opportunities. A series in this area with a high profile final and added prize money would be ideal as these races also serve to keep young riders involved in the sport.

That last point was discussed in greater detail in relation to the many barriers to becoming involved in point-to-points which the handlers identified. They felt that whether as a rider or handler, the modern day requirements were keeping smaller people away.

Staffing was identified as a massive problem for all handlers. In attempting to identify reasons for this, the high cost of becoming a qualified rider was discussed. Between the cost of the course, the license, and all the required safety gear, they were considered a significant barrier to many young riders getting involved. Riders who may only have had a ride or two in the past before getting involved, are now most likely not getting involved in the very first instance. An initiative to address this was considered urgent, with the handler overseeing the novice rider possibly able to assist in the process.

In terms of the barriers facing handlers – with the requirement for insurance, a handler’s license and so on, it is now not as simple as it once was and it needs to be such that anyone wanting to get involved is encouraged. A simplified process would help to ensure that any small handler or farmer who may have just one or two horses are fully encouraged to become a handler.

 


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