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P2P Q&A - Paul Murtagh on 150 years of the INHSC

13 November 2020

 

Paul Murtagh 800600
INHSC Registrar Paul Murtagh (right) in conversation with trainers Michael Grassick (centre) and Eddie Harty

 

The Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee celebrates 150 years of existence this year. A remarkable history. What is the background to the INHSC and what are its functions today?

According to our records, the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee was established in 1869, meeting for the first time in 1870. National Hunt racing was then held according to INHSC rules and soon afterwards they assumed responsibility for staging Point to Points. The INHSC first established a set of regulations for the Point to Points in 1900 and these are in use to this day as the ‘Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Regulations for Point to Point Steeplechases’.

The INHSC was given statutory recognition in the Irish Horseracing Industry Act 1994, the Horse and Greyhound Racing Act 2000, the Horse Racing Ireland Act 2016 as the Regulator for National Hunt racing. However, these regulatory functions for both National Hunt racing and Point to Points were transferred to the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB) upon its establishment in 2018. 

Nowadays the INHSC is solely responsible for the governance and administration of Point to Points. An all-island body, whose members come from all over the island of Ireland, the members elect three Stewards to promote and support Point to Points and National Hunt racing in general. The majority of members of the INHSC are also members of the IHRB to serve in a voluntary capacity as Acting Stewards for the IHRB at all 26 racecourses in Ireland and to act as an IHRB Representative at all Point to Points.

What is the INHSC involvement in Point to Points?

Firstly, the INHSC is responsible for the Point to Point fixture list, allocating suitable dates and ensuring a balanced schedule of fixtures each Autumn and Spring season, with suitable opportunities for all categories of National Hunt horses and riders. Some initiatives the INHSC sponsor to aid with this include:

  • Sponsoring a series of maiden races at Point to Points for older horses with €1,000 Bonus prizemoney to each winner, culminating in a €5,000 final.
  • Promoting a series of Auction races for 4yo maidens purchased as stores for less than €25,000 at a defined Public Auction.
  • Financially supporting Hunt Committees to encourage them to stage races for Novice Riders at Point to Points.

The INHSC also work closely with Hunts, Handlers, Qualified Riders and other stakeholders each year to plan for each season and then review it, aiming to improve Point to Points for all participants. They have provided Hunt Committees with financial support for new initiatives down through the years, constantly focussing on improving safety and welfare of both horse and rider. And then throughout the season, at least one member of the INHSC represents the IHRB at every Point to Point on a voluntary basis to assist the IHRB and Hunt Committees in the running of the fixture.

The INHSC are also committed to supporting the Point to Point Awards. Traditionally held at the end of the season, this could not happen this year due to the pandemic. Instead, with the fantastic support of our regular sponsors, the winners were presented with their awards at the Point to Point Day in Fairyhouse on Tuesday November 10th. This Point to Point Day was a new initiative that the INHSC felt was needed since many of the Hunter Chases and Point to Point Bumpers in Spring were lost due to the pandemic and was made possible with the support of HRI and Fairyhouse. The INHSC sponsored 2 races on the day and we would hope to develop this concept in coming years – it brought Point to Pointing to a wider audience for the day and it was a day we were delighted to be involved with.

2020 has been a challenging year. How has the INHSC adapted?

The whole Point to Point industry suffered hugely from the timing of the lockdown in March. In effect the lockdown resulted in only 50% of the fixtures originally scheduled for the 2019/20 Point to Point season being held, as the months of March, April and May are the busiest months of the whole year. We then set about consulting with the various stakeholders to establish an enhanced Autumn Season of fixtures. With the wonderful help of many Hunt Committees we scheduled 37 fixtures, 22 of which have been held successfully to date, with a strong level of entries and good numbers of runners. These Point to Points had to be held behind closed doors, and with the help of HRI and IHRB in particular, we have been able to run Point to Points under the same strict protocols as racecourses, restricting access to only those essential to the running  of the meeting, health-screening all attendees, temperature-checking everyone on arrival and to date Hunt Committees have been fantastic with providing everything required to run the meeting in a safe environment. Adherence to the Protocols by all attendees has been excellent.

Furthermore, the INHSC supported each Hunt Committee financially by contributing €1,000 to each Hunt that held a fixture and along with p2p.ie provided racecards for each fixture. The Qualified Riders Association also contributed €500 to each Hunt Committee and Tattersalls Ireland sponsored a race at each fixture to the same amount. The INHSC are grateful to all these organisations for ensuring the Autumn Point to Point season could take place amid such uncertainty.

How important are Point to Points to Irish racing as a whole?

Vitally important to both the Irish National Hunt breeding industry and to Irish racing. Each year multiple top-level successes, both in Ireland and Britain, are recorded by horses that first showcased their talents in an Irish Point to Point. The yards of trainers throughout the British Isles are full of horses that started in Point to Points, and owners and trainers keep returning to the Point to Point sales to source stock that are proven time and time again to win at the highest level. Commercially this is very important to Irish racing because the strength of these performances, consistently over time, means that Irish Trainers do very well at the major Festivals and money filters down to breeders, pinhookers, stallion masters etc. Point to Points are a real success story in Irish Racing. Furthermore, they provide opportunities to older horses to continue racing, provide opportunities for young amateur riders to improve their riding and hone their skills, and provide owners with a cost-effective way of getting into horse racing.

How do you see the future of the INHSC? Another 150 years?

Hopefully we will still be around in another 150 years. For the moment, we are just trying to navigate the Point to Point industry through the pandemic so that we still have a strong industry when things get back to normal. We have various plans to improve Point to Points and National Hunt racing further and are working hard to achieve these. We launched a new logo this year and aim to develop the INHSC brand further to make people in the industry more aware of the organisation and highlight some of the amazing voluntary work the members carry out.

IHRB & INHSC website: http://ihrb.ie/
All Irish point-to-point 4yo Maidens in 2020 will be available to view on the ITM YouTube channel. Subscribe here.

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