Horse Racing Ireland’s director of racing has defended the sex allowance given to mares when they compete against males and said it is statistically justified.
Despite winning Sunday's Bar One Hatton's Grace Hurdle with Apple's Jade, her owner, Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary, argued afterwards that mares shouldn't receive any weight allowance in Grade One races and maintained it is unfair on geldings.
Apple's Jade carried 7lbs less than her male opposition in the €100,000 weekend feature and ran out an easy nine length winner from Nichols Canyon.
Pointing to improvements in the race programme since mares' allowances were increased from 5lbs to 7lbs in 2011, O'Leary pointed to Annie Power as an example of a top mare able to compete with males and said she didn't need a 7lb pull to win the 2016 Champion Hurdle.
The question of mares' allowances has consistently provoked debate over the years including when the legendary Dawn Run got a 5lb pull with males when landing the 1986 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Some also viewed Annie Power's sex allowance as decisive in her Champion Hurdle victory.
The British authorities moved first on increasing the allowance to allow mares be more competitive and in 2011 HRI followed suit by extending it to all races in Ireland.
"Handicappers in Britain and Ireland looked at the mares' allowance historically and I think it showed underperformance by mares across all races was closer to 10lbs. That was the justification for raising it from 5lbs to 7lbs," said HRI's director of racing, Jason Morris, on Monday.
“Mares are still a relatively small number of the National Hunt population whereas there is almost an even 50-50 split on the flat in terms of participation and with broadly similar success rates.
“Historically on the National Hunt side of things mares are a smaller proportion of runners and have tended to underperform in terms of winning their share of races. You can even look at Enable winning the King George and the Arc: a very top class filly is a very rare thing.
“Except for Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle and going back a long time, Dawn Run in the Gold Cup, I think you could count on one hand the number of mares able to take on geldings in National Hunt racing over the years and come out on top,” he added.
Morris said weight-for-age and allowance matters are consistently reviews but stressed: “There was statistical justification to increase the mares’ allowance.”
Apple’s Jade’s Hatton’s Grace performance saw her raised 2lbs in official ratings and she is now at a career-high mark of 158.
The coast appears clear for Douvan to make his first appearance since picking up an injury at Cheltenham in March by lining up in Saturday’s Betfair Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
His stable companion Un De Sceaux won the two-mile highlight a year ago and also features among 11 entries left in the Grade One. However Willie Mullins has indicated that Un De Sceaux is more likely to stay at home for Cork's Hilly Way Chase a day later. Douvan won that race in 2016.
Subsequently Douvan suffered a stress fracture to his pelvis when his long unbeaten run ended in spectacular fashion in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Another Mullins star, Djakadam, is likely to get the chance to make some history at Punchestown on Sunday by becoming the first horse to win the John Durkan Memorial Chase on three occasions.
Enda Bolger’s Sunday focus could be in Britain however as he is weighing up the option of running Ballyoisin in the Peterborough Chase at Huntingdon. He is one of 13 entries left in the race and may attempt to build on a fine second to Disko at Down Royal last time.
“We’ll mull it over for the next couple of days. There’s also the Hilly Way in Cork so we’ll see which way we go. He’s rated 157 now and there aren’t many options when you get to that sort of rating,” Bolger reported.
“The ground in Huntingdon would probably suit him but we won’t make any decisions until later in the week,” the Co Limerick based trainer added.
Ballyoisin's potential opposition at Huntingdon includes last year's winner Josses Hill and the Paul Nicholls pair, Ptit Zig and San Benedeto.