IRISH racing’s history makers Rachael Blackmore, Henry de Bromhead and Colin Keane headed the winners of the 2021 Horse Racing Ireland Awards ceremony held on Wednesday evening.
Rachael Blackmore had been announced as this year’s Irish Racing Hero Award winner on the back of an outstanding year that saw her crowned the leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival only weeks before her Grand National win at Aintree.
Blackmore’s star performer over the last three years has been the seven-year-old mare Honeysuckle.
The Kenny Alexander-owned mare again won all before her and was a convincing winner of the Horse of the Year Award.
She crowned a remarkable season with success in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival and rounded off when winning the Champion Hurdle at Punchestown at the end of April.
Accepting her award Rachael Blackmore said: “It’s an incredible honour. This is a very special award won by some very special people. The highlight of my year was definitely winning the Grand National. It was just an incredible moment, winning a race with so much history. That stands out, closely followed by Cheltenham. It all about the horses you get on and I was very lucky.”
Kenny Alexander accepted the Horse of the Year Award for Honeysuckle: “The year couldn’t have gone better, a dream come through. The way she has been trained by Henry is a masterclass, and Rachael rides her to perfection too.
“It was tough not being able to attend most of her wins this year. I was at Fairyhouse for the Hatton’s Grace and that made up for it all. She got a great reception. Arguably the best day in racing I’ve had. Never to be forgotten.
“To see how popular she is with Irish racegoers – they love her – and they are big fans of Rachael and Henry too. I pay the training fees but the public own her in some respects.”
After an incredible 2020-21 season, Henry de Bromhead was the winner of the National Hunt Award. In March, he broke new ground when becoming the first trainer to win the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival in the same year.
He again rewrote the record books a matter of weeks later when becoming only the second trainer, and the first since 1908, to saddle the first two horses home in the Grand National.
De Bromhead said: “It’s been a pretty good year for us, I must say, If 2022 is anything like 2021 well be very happy.
“We went to Cheltenham hoping to get one winner and for everything to work out the way it did, everything fell right. It was just an incredible week, one we will remember forever.
“These are races I never dreamt we would win when I started training. It’s just stuff to savour, brilliant for everyone here, all our clients, an incredible time.”
The Flat Award also had a stand-out winner in champion jockey Colin Keane, capturing a third riders’ title.
He notched up the fastest century of winners, bettered Joseph O’Brien’s 2013 total of 126 and then set a new record of 141 winners with a final day double at Naas.
“It was a brilliant year, from start to finish. Having all my friends and family at Naas on the final day of the season was special. They were there the first time I won it but they couldn’t come in 2020. It was unbelievable to have them back.
“Riding 141 winners was definitely not the aim at the start of the year. We were just hoping to get to the 100 mark – usually you will be fighting out the championship with that number. Every year we try to beat the previous year’s tally. I don’t how we can do that next year but we will see what happens,” Keane said.
The ceremony presented by Ruby Walsh and Marie Crowe had one of it’s the best moments when Jane Mangan went to visit Paul Hennessy and Heaven Help Us – or Billie Jean as she is known in her own yard.
Billie Jean had no time for the bucket of carrots but inside was the National Hunt Achievement Award for her wins at the Dublin Racing Festival and Cheltenham. The John Turner-owned seven-year-old was ridden on each occasion by Richie Condon.
Hennessy said: “What happened to us this year you couldn’t even dream it. I led her up myself at Cheltenham. I just hope she stays in one piece. I have my wife Susan, our five daughters and this mare is another super special woman in my life.”
An equally popular winner was the Point-to-Point Award presented to John Nallen. Three weeks last spring will last a lifetime as two horses that began under his care in the point-to-pointing field went on to win two of the biggest prizes in racing, the Gold Cup with Minella Indo, and the Grand National with Minella Times.
Nallen was surprised by Richard Pugh to look back at the Gold Cup. “Tears still come to my eyes if I was here on my own looking at it – how did I do that?
“Years ago when I was a young lad going to Cheltenham you’d be looking at the horses and looking at the point-to-points saying would you have a horse good enough to enter at Cheltenham. To think that you had a horse good enough to go and win a Gold Cup – it’s fairytale stuff.”
The replay was interrupted at the final fence and we went to owner Barry Maloney with the Point-to-Point Award presentation. Richard handed the award over to a “wonderful promoter of the sport, a wonderful spokesperson for the sport.”
A Case of Ado
The Flat Achievement award went to Ado McGuinness for a terrific year crowned by A Case Of You’s win in the Prix de l’Abbaye.
“I am delighted to accept this award after what has been the most memorable year of my life. Thanks to everybody who supported me – owners, all my staff have been brilliant and my family,” McGuinness said.
“The highlight was my first Group 1 winner in France, a day I will never forget – a brilliant occasion, the way we won it. Going to the Breeders’ Cup was a great experience too. It’s been a surreal year for me and all my staff.”
Letterkenny’s Dylan Browne McMonagle crowned a terrific year with the Emerging Talent Award.
He rode an impressive 48 winners to become champion apprentice and his season’s highlights included a first group race success on Baron Samedi.
Browne McMonagle said: “Things have just snowballed for me since I signed on with Joseph O’Brien. There are lots of apprentices in the yard and Joseph gives everyone their fair share but you have to keep improving. Baron Samedi has given me plenty of good days. Massive thanks to all the team.”
The 2021 Ride Of The Year Award was a public vote and Darragh O’Keeffe’s winning effort on A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at last year’s Leopardstown Christmas Festival was the choice.
Accepting the award O’Keeffe said: “It’s a great honour to receive the award, I’m delighted.
I got great instructions on the day. We needed the line to be where it was and thankfully we got there.”
The Contribution to the Industry award had been presented to Dr Jennifer Pugh, Senior Medial Officer of the IHRB, at Fairyhouse earlier in the month, when she was present and caught by surprise.
She was recognised for her tireless work in ensuring that racing continued to run smoothly and safely during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“For the past 18 months there is little that has happened on the racecourse that I did not know about, so I did not expect to be caught out like this, with all my family here. I never aspired to win an award like this. I just set out to do my work and do it well. It’s a wonderful feeling to have had that recognition from everybody.”
Tributes to her tireless work all year were paid by Ross O’Sullivan (She’s been like a bionic woman), Noel Meade, Jennifer Walsh, Danny Mullins, Shark Hanlon and husband Richard.
Horse Racing Ireland Chairman, Nicky Hartery, commented: “It is fitting that those who achieved such great success on the racecourse share our awards’ limelight with Dr Jennifer Pugh. I thank her most sincerely for all her work and congratulate each of our winners for their tremendous exploits in 2021.”
Suzanne Eade, Chief Executive of HRI, said: “I am delighted that we can pay tribute to those who achieved so much and made such telling contributions to our wonderful industry in the past 12 months.
“Jennifer and Rachael have been two of our leading lights and their awards are so well deserved.
“As we saw at Fairyhouse only a few weeks ago, Honeysuckle is certainly the darling of the racing public and I congratulate her owner Kenny Alexander on her achievement in winning the Horse of the Year Award.”
Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue also had some words at the conclusion paying tribute to the industry.
“When other sports come and go - Irish racing continues to be an enduring success.” He also thanked outgoing HRI CEO Brian Kavanagh for “the supreme effort” he made in the position over the years.
The Minister also added at note of caution: “It is important that I take this opportunity to remind everyone in the industry that our hard-earned reputation as a global leader is fragile.”
“We are always just around the corner from the next crisis and we must take every proactive step to not only protect but to enhance our reputation.
“This reputation has been earned through the hard work, skill and dedication of so many in the industry.
“On a number of occasions this year we sailed too close to the wind for my liking and we must redouble our efforts in 2022 to safeguard our reputation,” he added.
Irish Racing Hero Award: Rachael Blackmore
Horse of the Year Award: Honeysuckle
Contribution to the Industry Award: Dr Jennifer Pugh
National Hunt Award: Henry de Bromhead
National Hunt Achievement Award: Paul Hennessy
Point-to-Point Award: John Nallen
Flat Award: Colin Keane
Flat Achievement Award: Ado McGuinness
Emerging Talent Award: Dylan Browne McMonagle
Ride of the Year: Darragh O’Keeffe