They got as warm a standing ovation as you would expect and they deserved when Pat Smullen and Ruby Walsh were honoured with the Irish Racing Hero Award at the Horse Racing Ireland Awards in Dublin last night.
Trainer Jessica Harrington, top jockey Rachael Blackmore and dual Aintree Grand National winner Tiger Roll were also among the winners.
The winners in 11 categories were announced at a ceremony which was attended by many of the industry’s leading figures, including JP McManus, Willie Mullins, Aidan O’Brien and many more.
The guest of honour was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed and there were a host of political representatives in the room including Kevin O’Keeffe from the Oireachtas Committee on Tourism, Transport and Sport.
HRI Chair Nicky Hartery, who fulfils the same role at CRH spoke in his address of the need to celebrate the success of horse racing as a sport and an industry. He spoke with excitement about the new Curragh racecourse and the developments taking shape at Leopardstown.
Both Pat Keogh, the new CEO at the former, and Tim Husbands who will replace him at Leopardstown in the new year were there to see the sport they are charged with delivering through a great race day experience.
The Racecourse of the Year award went to Naas whose Chairman was doubling up on a celebration of a milestone birthday as well.
The winners of the 17th annual awards were:
- Irish Racing Hero Award: Pat Smullen & Ruby Walsh
- Contribution to the Industry Award: Tony O’Hehir
- Horse of the Year Award: Tiger Roll
- Emerging Talent Award: Darragh O’Keeffe
- National Hunt Award: Rachael Blackmore
- National Hunt Achievement Award: Gavin Cromwell
- Flat Award: Jessica Harrington
- Flat Achievement Award: Wayne Lordan
- Point-to-Point Award: Colin Bowe
- Ride of the Year Award: Billy Lee
- Racecourse of the Year Award: Naas Racecourse
Irish Racing Hero Award winners Pat Smullen and Ruby Walsh, widely regarded as two of the all-time great jockeys, retired within days of each other earlier this year. Nine-time Flat champion Smullen hung up his boots in early May and was then central to a celebrated fundraising campaign for pancreatic cancer trials and awareness of pancreatic cancer research, culminating with the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland at the Curragh and a sum raised for charity in excess of €2.5m.
Walsh bowed out with Grade 1 success at the Punchestown Festival after his own stellar career. Crowned National Hunt jockey on a record 12 occasions, his record in big jump races around the globe was second to none. The winning-most rider at Cheltenham, Ruby was the leading rider at the Festival on 11 occasions and retired with a record 59 winners at the meeting to his name. Like Pat Smullen, he enjoyed tremendous success the world over.
Walsh was joined in the room last night by his family and also by his new teammates Marie Crowe and Donncha O’Callaghan from RTÉ 2FM’s Game on programme.
Tiger Roll, owned by Gigginstown House Stud, is one of the most popular horses in training and was the runaway winner of the Horse Of The Year Award. In April of this year, he became the first horse since Red Rum in 1973 and 1974 to record back-to back wins in the Aintree Grand National for trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Davy Russell having notched up his fourth win at the Cheltenham Festival only the month before.
A household name in his own right, Tony O’Hehir was presented with the Contribution to the Industry Award. The country’s top racing journalist for over 30 years, Tony was the voice of racing on RTE Television since the mid-1980s, a role that ran in tandem with that of Chief Reporter with the Racing Post newspaper. It’s 50 years since Tony did his first racecourse commentary, in his early days he was racing correspondent for the Sunday Press newspaper and he made a significant contribution to the Irish Form Book for a great many years.
The National Hunt Award went to Rachael Blackmore whose achievements on the racecourse were being acknowledged for the second successive year. Rachael has cemented her position as one of the leading jockeys in the country with a second-place finish in last season’s jockeys’ championship and a string of big race victories throughout the season. She rode her first winners at the Cheltenham Festival in March on A Plus Tard and Minella Indo and enjoyed three Grade One winners at home in 2019.
Jessica Harrington is the winner of the Flat Award. In a wonderful season, Jessica posted her best tally of winners highlighted by the remarkable success of her juvenile fillies. The exciting Albigna landed the Group 2 Airlie Stud Stakes at the Curragh on Derby weekend before winning the prestigious Group 1 Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp on Arc day. There was also top-level success for the stable when Millisle won the Group 1 Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.
The National Hunt Achievement Award went to Gavin Cromwell. Gavin continues to go from strength to strength and enjoyed a terrific 12 months with the undoubted highlight being his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival in March with Espoir D’allen which recorded a record-breaking 15-length success in the Champion Hurdle.
The Flat Achievement Award went to Corkman Wayne Lordan who had a terrific time of things in 2019, beginning the season with success on Hermosa in the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket and rounding off the year with a first Breeders’ Cup win on Iridessa, adding to their wins in the Pretty Polly Stakes and the Coolmore Fastnet Rock Matron Stakes on Longines Irish Champions Weekend.
County Wexford’s domination of the Point-to-Point Award continued as Colin Bowe added to the recent success in the category of leading rider Barry O’Neill and Jamie Codd. Colin has dominated the training ranks within point-to-pointing for much of the last decade and 2019 was undoubtedly his best year to date. He claimed the leading handler award for the fifth time with a total of 45 winners, just two shy of the record.
Darragh O’Keeffe is the winner of the inaugural Emerging Talent Award. Standing out amongst several hugely promising young National Hunt jockeys, Darragh landed his 60th success and rode out his claim when winning the Cork National on the Michael Hourigan-trained The Gatechecker at Cork at the beginning of last month. Darragh rode his first winner only 16 months previously.
Ride of the Year
The winner of the Ride of the Year Award was determined by a public vote and Billy Lee emerged victorious. His winning ride came on one of the biggest days of the Flat season at Leopardstown on Longines Irish Champions Weekend where he brought Space Traveller from well off the pace to win the Clipper Logistics Boomerang Stakes.
Naas Racecourse was the winner of the Racecourse of the Year Award. From all 26 racecourses, the County Kildare venue came out on top following a ballot of members of the Racegoers’ Consultative Forum, the Irish racing media, the Association of Irish Racehorse Owners, the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, the Irish Jockeys Association and the Irish Stablestaff Association.
Horse Racing Ireland Chairman, Nicky Hartery, commented: “It is fitting that we honour the horses and people who have given us so much in 2019. My congratulations to all our winners and nominees and I wish everyone in the racing industry continued success for the year ahead.”
Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of HRI, said: “This is a very special occasion as we look back on another successful year for our industry. Our ‘heroes’ Pat Smullen and Ruby Walsh are fully deserving of their awards for all they gave us over so many years and of course, Tony O’Hehir was another to enjoy a fine career in racing journalism, doing so much to promote our sport to the widest possible audience. There could hardly be a more popular horse in training than Tiger Roll and he is a fitting winner of the Horse of the Year Award.”
The award winners were presented with specially commissioned bronze trophies created in Shinrone, County Offaly by renowned sculptor Siobhan Bulfin.
Image credit: Chris Bellew, Fennell Photography