“TALKING to the judges there’s a word that struck me that seemed consistent across so many of the nominees and not just the eight finalists tonight, and that word is kindness,” said Joe Osborne, managing director of sponsors Godolphin Ireland. “Kindness towards the horses in their care, but even more so the kindness they show to their colleagues and the kindness that they show to new entrants to the business.”

The atmosphere in the ballroom at the Keadeen Hotel on Tuesday evening couldn’t have been more joyous as eight individual winners were celebrated for their vital and dedicated work, and Downpatrick Racecourse won the coveted Racecourse Award. There were a few lumps in throats as we watched films charting each winner’s life with horses, their love of the animals in their care and the industry they have made theirs.

In a single moment that summed up the depth of meaning of receiving an award, guests united in smiles and cheers at the mighty hug award-winner Sinead O’Sullivan received from her father as she returned with her prize. Sinead received her award for her 10 years working as travelling head groom with John Joseph Murphy, who truth be told, beamed as brightly as Sinead’s father as she collected her trophy.

Winners received an Ani Mollereau designed award and €4,000 with an additional €2,500 to be used for the benefit of their colleagues. Talking to The Irish Field Sinead said: “I’m absolutely over the moon, there’s so many people that deserve this award, nevermind me. I’m working in horses since I was 13 – it was animals always. My poor guidance teacher at school said to me in fifth year, ‘Sinead I’m going to give you the CAO form, could you fill it in’ and I said: ‘No point Mrs, I ain’t going to no college, I’m going horses all the way!’ I just knew. I love my work, and not a lot of people can say that.”

In addition to his employee award, stud groom at Baroda Stud, Brian Delahunt scooped the Irish Racing Excellence Award for his more than 30 years dedication to the racing industry. Brian’s way with mares and foals and the compassion he allows them was particularly moving and a tribute to a genuine horseman with an exceptional love of horses.

“There’s a lot of responsibility there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “You never switch off, the horses are constantly on your mind... Every foal that’s born there’s a dream with them, they can be anything… It’s an honour for me to get a reward for doing a job I love.”

Tom Agar, senior groom for Jim Bolger has built a legendary work ethic and an enviable collection of best-turned-out accolades. “I love horses, I love good natured horses, I love travelling… Jim Bolger is a great teacher. He’ll teach you everything right, to do your work right. He’s a very good man,” he said.

Lisieux Stud’s Edward Farrell has been with them for over 50 years. A talented mare man who has foaled generations of equine families. Lisieux say of him: “If there is a sick mare or foal, Eddie is the first to volunteer to stay late and he will always come back to check on the sick horse in the middle of the night just to make sure or nurse a foal all night if he needs to.”

Barn manager and work rider for Willie Mullins, Imran Haider was cheered raucously to the stage by his Closutton colleagues. Boss Willie Mullins was there to pay tribute and hand him his award. With nearly 20 years under his belt at the Muine Bheag yard, Mullins paid tribute to Imran’s affinity with he horses in his care and said of him: “Imran is everything any trainer could wish for – a hard worker, a loyal employee, a great horseman and the best colleague you can wish for.”

Yard manager at Goffs Tommy Hayes was represented by his daughter Maria Sullivan as sadly ill-health prevented him from attending to collect his much-deserved award. There was huge applause for the man described as ‘the backbone of Goffs’ as he was given a fitting tribute by chief executive Henry Beeby who said: “All of us at Goffs are so proud of our wonderful colleague Tommy Hayes and are thrilled that his hard work and dedication has been recognised by the industry in this way. This award is richly deserved as Tommy is the epitome of hard work, loyalty and decency, and has been a key part of Goffs for almost 40 years.”

Stephanie McGinely is stud groom at Boardsmill Stud has been with them since 2019. The youngest of the winners, Stephanie was praised by her colleagues as having a natural ability with the horses in her care whether it’s sales preparation or stud work.

Ballyphilip Stud’s Denis Lawlor has worked as stud groom for the past 20 years and has been a part of the story of three world champions and numerous stakes winners. His colleagues describes him as having “an in-built kindness towards and empathy with animals, particularly horses – almost a sixth sense which allows him to pick up on an animal starting to feel unwell or perhaps one starting to lack thrive.”

To all the worthy winners, we salute you!