Even allowing for the abandonments, there was some high quality racing on offer over the weekend. In any normal circumstances, Native River's return to winning ways illustrating the fallow period for the Tizzard family may be over would have been a highlight.
Yet in virtually every race category - age, distance, chase or hurdle, contenders for big prizes were having their final prep on a racecourse before committing to the Festival next month. Up at Musselburgh, Mel Rowley gave herself another option for the Foxhunter as Salvatore won with something in hand in the Scottish Foxhunter. Over in Ireland, the Dublin Racing Festival could have been put on solely for the benefit of the poor souls at Closutton, who won just nine of the 15 races run over the two day festival. The concentration of talent - equine and human - at Willie Mullins' stable is making Irish Jumps racing quite top-heavy. When Gordon Elliot is included, the share of the cake left for the country's other trainers is too modest to be healthy.
Does it matter when one man is so dominant? Well yes it does, as variety is the spice of the sport, and we need both to encourage more entrants to the sport, via ownership, training and all other forms of participation. In a near monopoly situation, there are strong disincentives to start c;limbing the ladder of excellence. This, I should add, is not Willie's fault; he runs an excellent business and has taken advantage of his expertise and weight of inward investment in him to capitalize and make his position near impregnable.
However, others have discovered that a living can be made elsewhere. Among Sunday's results, unremarked, was another success from a trainer unafraid to try new territories in order to succeed. Eight hindred miles away, in an altogether milder Pau, Sophie Leech added to her growing list of black tyoe races in France by scooping up the Listed Grande Course de Haies, Pau's most valuable hurdle race.
Ridden by another Brit establishing a name in France, nine year old Garo de Juilley took close order throughout, led approaching the last and won with plenty in hand from some decent stock from the blue bloods of the French training establishment. Sophie's runners in the UK have been very limited this season whilst she focuses her endeavours on la belle France. Nor is this her first decent race in France; she enjoyed success at Auteuil during the autumn calendar.
Competing in races on the Continent remains largely a habit pursued by our Flat counterparts, but Sophie is among a growing band of trainers who are spreading their wings abroad for Jumping too. As you might expect, Willie Mullins was one of ther first to try his hand abroad, and has been a regular plunderer of races at Autueil; but even oiut in the provinces, there can be valuable races to win, and experiences that are highly enjoyable for owners too. The variety of racecourses across France far excels even the reputation of the British racing calendar, and most of the rural racecourses are a great deal more scenic too.
Sophie's stats for British and Irish racing tell a sorry tale, but not the whole story. Check out her record in France and you'll realize there are alternatives for those finding the path to success a tough one over here.
Going for Sunday April 3 - Good (Thursday)
6m SE Cheltenham, nr junction of A40 and A436 (Exit 11A, M5)