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Ban squeezing point to point scene, says Clare horseman

ONE of the leading voices in the Irish Point to Point scene is Newmarket’s Ger Hannon, who is well known to all those who attend the grass roots events throughout the region.
A regular commentator both on the track and on the airwaves, he is among the cohort who are looking forward to having regular race meetings back up and running once more.
Following Government advice, point to point racing was halted on January 13 with hopes initially expressed that action could return on March 5.
The most recent Government update on Level 5 restrictions put paid to that, with April 5 now being the date after which it is hoped that racing can resume once more between the flags.
The Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board is understood to be in talks with Horse Racing Ireland aimed at alleviating the backlog of young horses needing a run, and Hannon agrees that the knock-on effect from grass roots level will permeate throughout the industry.
“Point to point racing stopped in January but there was no issue with that as the numbers of Covid-19 cases were getting bad.
“The whole health service was coming under huge pressure so we were willing to make whatever sacrifices were needed to try and help with getting things back under control.
“What is worrying though is the effect it will have across the National Hunt industry, not just point to point. You are talking about the people who buy the point to point horses to race them and then sell them on to the bigger trainers like Willie Mullins and others.
“They have invested a lot of money in these horses, but their season has been stopped so they cannot run them. So far, there have been 24 meetings cancelled.
These point to point horses are big animals that go on to be 3 mile chasers, and it really isn’t the best option to be running them on good ground in the spring. You need to have them on nice safe ground which you won’t have later on in the year” he noted.
Hannon, who is also involved at grass roots level in the sale and supply of horses, outlined that the industry cannot be allowed to stagnate much longer if supply lines are to be kept moving.
“If you take Cheltenham last year, 11 winners were horses who ran in point to points. There is a massive market there for people who want to buy ready-made race horses.
“We have so many great horsemen in Ireland. The whole industry will be affected by this. I would be in the category of people who would buy 3-year-olds, and when they are sold on we go back to buy foals from the breeders.
“There is a supply of horses that just cannot be turned off, and there are foals being born now who will be the point to point crop of 2025.
It will affect everyone really, including all the small farmers here in Clare who are involved. We have a magnificent record in Clare and I think eight Gold Cup horses came out of the county.
“You have the likes of Eddie Joyce in Cratloe who produced Moscow Flyer, one of the most talked about horses of all time. In Clare alone, you have the likes of the Hassetts in Quin and the O’Connors in Tubber, who would have quite a lot of horses.
“They are being produced to be sold and have to be ridden out every day, fed, exercised and all that, so that is quite a commitment. All that cannot stop and that is what makes the industry different.
“It is not like having a shop where you just stop stocking the shelves, you cannot do that with horses. They cannot be just left in the stable and taken out next May, they have to be looked after and there are mounting costs with that” he explained.
A return to the track would also mean a return to the microphone for the Newmarket man, whose first introduction to commentary will always hold special memories.
“We are farmers and my father always kept a brood mare or two and that is how we got into it. He bred a horse called Fair Crack and sold him at a public auction in Goffs at a special sale.
“There was a prize for all the horses who sold at that sale and there was a race for them the following year. He was sold as a flat yearling and there was a race in the Curragh for when they were two-year-olds.
“The prize was sponsored by the watch company Cartier and there was a breeder’s prize from it which Dad won. People were calling to the house for months after to watch the race, and for a finish the volume used to be turned down and I would do the commentary for it.
“I was lucky enough then with the meetings at Quakerstown and Bellharbour, they were short a commentator one day. I decided to do it and it all took off from there.
Jerry Hannon (no relation) was very good to me and it was down to his guidance that I found my way in doing it,” he recalled.
Over the years, he has been present for some of the biggest moments in Irish racing, but it is one of the more recent ones that stands out as a career highlight.
“I was lucky enough to be there for Faugheen’s first day, and then last Christmas in Limerick I was doing commentary for RTE Radio when he won his tenth Grade One.
“He beat Samcro that day and the volume when he jumped the last was just incredible. It was the only commentary I can remember where I could not hear myself.
“I was down interviewing Patrick Mullins after and people were clapping Samcro for coming second, which just shows the love and respect that is there for horses” he said.
His love of horse racing and that intricate knowledge that only comes from being involved in the sport are two aspects which he identifies as crucial to his success. The element of the unknown and the prospect of calling home the next superstar are also key points.
“I don’t know could I do a football or hurling game because it is so different. I was going point to pointing from an early age with my father and I was always watching whatever was going on.
“I tried my hand at being a jockey myself but I was no good. I rode one winner and fell more often than I finished, so I decided the commentary would be easier.
It is just great to be involved at any level. I can remember commentating on Monkfish winning his point to point, and I think five graded horses came out of that race.
“It can happen like that on any given Sunday, and you just never know what to expect at a point to point meeting” he concluded.

– Derrick Lynch

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