NEWS this week that John Oxx would soon be retiring from training produced a range of emotions from his many friends and admirers in racing.
There was surprise and sadness that such a brilliant exponent of his craft felt it was time to stop when the 70-year-old is in good health and with more to give. But there was also joy and gratitude, as we all took time to reflect on his achievements, and the many horses and humans who benefited from spending time in Currabeg Stables.
After qualifying as a veterinary surgeon, John Oxx started training in 1979, taking over from his father and namesake. Looking back on those days this week, he told Racing TV: “The goodwill you get to begin with does not last long if you are not doing well. I would have one good year and one moderate year, and it carried on like that until 1986 when the stable really started to thrive.”
It was 1995 when his first superstar arrived in the shape of Ridgewood Pearl. Owned locally be Sean and Anne Coughlan, she won the Irish 1000 Guineas, Coronation Stakes, Prix du Moulin and Breeders’ Cup Mile.
In the same season, Oxx had another outstanding three-year-old filly in Timarida but it was as a four-year-old that this Aga Khan-bred hit the headlines, winning Group 1 races in Munich and Chicago before capturing the Irish Champion Stakes.
Sinndar was the trainer’s first top-class colt, a Group 1 winner as a two-year-old in 1999 and then going on to complete the Epsom-Curragh Derby double in 2000 before signing off with success in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
Alamshar was almost as good in 2003, defeating Dalakhani in a memorable Irish Derby and then running out an impressive winner of the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot.
Johnny Murtagh was associated with all the above-named stars but by 2004 he had moved on and it was Michael Kinane who became the top jockey at Currabeg. Azamour was the stable star that season, winning the St James’s Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Irish Champion Stakes. The same combination won the Prince of Wales’s Stakes and King George the following year.
Sea The Stars
That collection of thoroughbreds would be enough to elevate any trainer to Hall of Fame status but John Oxx was only warming up. In 2009 he used all his experience, ability and wisdom to give Sea The Stars a perfect campaign. Six starts in six of the biggest races in the calendar and he hit the target every time.
The colt’s first four starts of the season were in England – the Guineas, Derby, Eclipse and Juddmonte International. Each performance was more impressive than the last. Next came the Irish Champion Stakes which he won with ease, and then the 19-runner Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in which Kinane smuggled his mount through the field, pouncing late and racing right away to show the world just how special Sea The Stars was.
“It was such a dream for us to have him, a great stroke of luck that he arrived on the premises,” Oxx told Racing TV. “We were blessed to have him. It was an incredible experience. It was a stressful time to make sure he achieved his destiny. The racedays were stressful, you want everything to go well and for him not to lose. But it was a great experience for everyone who worked here.
“It was a great pleasure to train a horse like that. The pleasure was in watching him at home, looking at him at evening stables, planning his work, watching him work in the mornings, getting to know him and his ways.”
Those peaks could never be matched but it is still hard to believe that the yard had no further top-level success after 2009. Oxx had 51 domestic winners that year. By 2013 it had fallen to 18 and in 2018 there were just nine wins for the stable.
In January 2019 it was announced that Group 1-winning trainer Patrick Prendergast, who was based at nearby Melitta Lodge, was throwing his lot in with Oxx and a revival looked on the cards but the expected winners never arrived.
On Monday, Oxx issued the following statement: “In 2021, I will not be renewing my trainer’s licence. It has been my good fortune to have enjoyed a lot of success and trained some great horses.
“I am extremely grateful to all the owners who have sent me those horses to train since 1979, to all the great jockeys who rode them and to all the exceptional staff who have worked for us over the last 41 years.
“Over the years and right up to date I have been privileged to have some wonderful owners and I will greatly miss training for them but now is a good time for me to stop.
“My concern at the moment is that our staff can find alternative employment as our training business will cease at the end of this turf season in November.”
Over the years Oxx’s counsel has frequently been sought by racing administrators. His name is often among the first on the teamsheet when committees or task forces are being assembled. It is to be hoped that Irish racing will continue to benefit from his clear thinking and good judgement for many years to come.
The career of John Mortimer Oxx
Born: July 14th, 1950. His father John was an eight-time Irish classic-winning trainer.
Stable: Currabeg, Curragh, Co Kildare.
First trainer’s licence: 1979.
First winner: Orchestra at Phoenix Park on March 31st, 1979.
Group/Grade 1 winners: 38
Alamshar: Irish Derby, King George (both 2003)
Azamour: St James’s Palace, Irish Champion (both 2004), Prince of Wales’s, King George (both 2005)
Alandi: Irish St Leger (2009), Prix du Cadran (2009)
Ebadiyla: Irish Oaks, Prix Royal-Oak (both 1997)
Edabiya: Moyglare Stud Stakes (1998)
Enzeli: Gold Cup (1999)
Eurobird: Irish St Leger (1987)
Flamenco Wave: Moyglare Stud Stakes (1988)
Kastoria: Irish St Leger (2005)
Key Change: Yorkshire Oaks (1996)
Manntari: National Stakes (1993)
Namid: Prix de l’Abbaye (2000)
Petite Ile: Irish St Leger (1989)
Ridgewood Pearl: Irish 1000 Guineas, Coronation, Prix du Moulin, Breeders’ Cup Mile (all 2005)
Sea The Stars: 2000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse, International, Irish Champion, Arc (all 2009)
Sinndar: National (1999), Derby, Irish Derby, Arc (all 2000)
Timarida: Bayerisches Zuchtrennen, Prix de l’Opera, Beverly D Stakes, Irish Champion Stakes (all 1996)
Winona: Irish Oaks (1998)