Harry Fry warns British National Hunt racing needs to substantially “raise our game” if it is to compete with its Irish counterparts.
British-trained runners won just five of the 28 races across the four-day Cheltenham Festival, with Nicky Henderson’s Grade One-winning duo Shishkin and Chantry House providing the highlights for the home team.
Fry fielded four runners at the Festival – including the well-fancied Metier, who beat just one home in the opening Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, which was won in spectacular fashion by Willie Mullins’ Appreciate It.
While full of respect for the achievements of the Irish runners, Fry thinks there are plenty of areas requiring swift attention if British trainers are to mount more of a challenge next year.
He said: “They’re doing everything better than we are, quite simply. We have to congratulate them on a fantastic week, and aspire to the heights they’ve hit.
“We’ve got to raise our game – big time.
“There’s going to be lots of thought and conversations going on. We’ve already started that, from recruiting the right horses to getting the right owners involved. It’s everything – it’s the race planning, the team at home, the staff that work with the horses.
“There’ll be a lot of British-based trainers taking a hard look at themselves and working out where we can raise our game – because we need to, or we’ve going to get left behind quickly.
“We’ve got big owners investing in Irish racing, because there is some sort of return, and there isn’t here. It’s hard to justify to owners when you’re running around for £3,000 in a race.
“I won the Grade One Tolworth, and I didn’t even win £20,000 for winning a Grade One.”
Charlie Longsdon, who had five Festival runners, believes better prize money in Ireland is key to the strong performance of the raiding party.
He said: “They’ve got better horses than we have. Prize money is the thing.
“We didn’t quite get it right in the handicaps – but their prize money is the main reason their horses are going so well, I think.”
Dan Skelton concedes the Irish horses are superior, but also feels it is time to review the National Hunt system in Britain.
The handler saddled 13 runners at the meeting, hitting the bar on multiple occasions, most notably with Nube Negra – who just failed to catch Put The Kettle On in the Champion Chase – and Langer Dan in the closing Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle.
He told ITV Racing: “They’re just better at the moment – it’s as simple as that.
“There is time now for a good look at everything. The whole British system needs a good look, and we need to come out with a plan to make sure we can compete going forward.
“We have to become better competitors – especially at that meeting – and this was the catalyst for it.
“I think you’ll see big changes because of it.”