A specially enhanced Irish jumps programme for this winter has been announced by Horse Racing Ireland (HRI), the sport’s governing body in the Emerald Isle.
Among the legendary racehorses to have an event name after them are prolific Gigginstown House Stud mare Apple’s Jade, who was retired in the spring, and legendary Willie Mullins inmate Faugheen.
The announcement comes after Irish National Hunt horse racing lost its key spring festivals at Fairyhouse and Punhcestown.
HRI always promised to make up for those losses and their one-off Irish jumps programme for the 2020-21 campaign gives plenty for mares and horses regarded as intermediates over hurdles and fences.
Most changes to the pattern are temporary, but some are permanent. They include the Grade 1 novice chase at Limerick’s Christmas Festival being named after Faugheen.
The Apple’s Jade Mares Novice Hurdle, meanwhile, over 2m 5f, enters the programme as a Listed race at Navan on 21 February.
Full list of temporary changes to the Irish jumps programme
- Galway, 25 October: new Grade 3 intermediate hurdle (2m 5f)
- Wexford, 26 October, upgraded intermediate chase to Grade 3 (2m 7f)
- Punchestown, 14 November, new Grade B intermediate handicap chase (2m 4f)
- Punchestown, 15 November, new Grade 2 intermediate hurdle (2m 6f)
- Naas, 21 November, upgraded Poplar Square Chase to Grade 2 (2m)
- Naas, 21 November, upgraded Fishery Lane Hurdle to Grade 2 (2m)
- Navan, 22 November, new Grade 2 intermediate chase (3m)
- Fairyhouse, 28 November, new Grade 2 mares intermediate hurdle (2m 4f)
- Fairyhouse, 12 December, new Grade B intermediate handicap chase (2m 1f)
Permanent changes to the Irish jumps programme
- Limerick, 26 December, name change for Grade 1 to Faugheen Novice Chase (2m 3f)
- Limerick, 29 December upgraded 4yo hurdle to Grade 2 (2m)
- Fairyhouse, 3 January, Grade 3 mares chase moved from Easter (2m 4f)
- Navan, 21 February, new Listed race, Apple’s Jade Mares Novice Hurdle (2m 5f)
- Naas, 14 March, upgraded Kingsfurze Novice Hurdle to Grade 3 (2m)
- Fairyhouse, Easter Festival, new Listed race, Maid of Money Mares Chase (2m 4f)
Analysis: Enhanced programme should help Irish mares continue domination
Jamie Clark, Horsebetting.com Editor
Some of these changes to the pattern, however HRI dress them up, benefit the road to the Cheltenham Festival. What struck me immediately was the moving of the Easter Festival mares chase from Fairyhouse to a midwinter slot.
Cheltenham announce which race will make way at the Festival for their own mares’ race over fences, but the Irish schedulers clearly have one eye on that.
Given how Emerald Isle raiders have dominated other mares’ events at National Hunt’s marquee meeting in March, it’s no surprise really.
A look at the Cheltenham mares’ chase betting with bookmakers sees the Irish with a strong presence. It is lovely to see Faugheen and Apple’s Jade honoured after their long spells at the top too.
The intermediate programme, meanwhile, adds extra intrigue to this autumn and winter. Although HRI shelved plans to rearrange the Irish Grand National, prize money boosts to other staying handicap chases at Fairyhouse are welcome.
It should be stressed that most alterations to the Irish jumps programme are temporary. The need for more intermediate events long-term probably isn’t there.
However, most of HRI’s permanent changes are for mares. This reflects the growing trend to improve the pattern and give owners every incentive to keep them in training for longer.
That issue is one that divides punters, because mares get a far bigger sex allowance over jumps than on the Flat. I love the mares only races myself, but do see the other side of the coin.