THE Dunboyne Castle Hotel in Co Meath was the venue for the 41st Point-to-Point Awards last Saturday evening and it attracted 270 guests from around the country.
Returning after a two-year break, the event is now run by the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee who took over the baton from a group of volunteers who themselves had inherited the event from P2P.ie. It was of course stewards’ secretary Michael O’Donoghue who established the event and Michael was present again on Saturday, along with the evergreen Frankie Fitzsimmons.
Special guests included point-to-point ‘legend’ Bill McLernon and the Horse Racing Ireland chief executive Suzanne Eade who attended a fixture during the past season.
IHRB chairman Martin O’Donnell was unable to attend for personal reasons and deputising was Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee steward Philip McLernon who gave an assurance that the INHSC “will meet the challenges facing the sector head-on.”
He spoke about the INHSC’s increased race sponsorship profile and the record-breaking achievements of injured jockey Liz Lalor, while giving special mention to the hunt committees and volunteers who keep point-to-points alive – and this was a theme repeated during the night.
After a splendid dinner (beef or salmon!) our MC Richard Pugh took to the stage and kicked off the awards ceremony with his usual statistical review of the season.
Barry O’Neill was the big winner on the night. Recipient of The Irish Field Champion Rider trophy for the sixth consecutive year, the Wexford man also won the northern and eastern titles, while sharing the southern title, clawing back an 11-winner deficit to dead-heat with James Hannon.
O’Neill can be called the hardest-working rider on the circuit as was the only one to ride in over 200 races last season. His 61 winners this season saw him pass the 700-winner mark, which puts him third only to Derek O’Connor and Jamie Codd on the all-time list.
Having picked up the trophy in solitude for the past two years, O’Neill was delighted to be back amongst friends this year for the awards night. “It means everything to be here, finishing up the year on a night like this,” he said. “We’ve had tough times for the last couple of years but we’re back on the home straight now.”
Asked if still had the appetite to travel up and down the country next season, O’Neill said he was “never as hungry.” He added: “I wouldn’t be here only for the people like Colin [Bowe] and David [Christie] I ride for. To be honest, I am in a lucky position. There’s numerous lads could do what I do.”
Colin Bowe supplied O’Neill with 37 of his 61 winners and, in total, Bowe trained 46 winners last season which left him miles clear in the handlers’ championship. This is his 10th title and his eighth in a row.
Best known for his ability to train four-year-old winners, Bowe has famously produced Grade 1 horses such as Envoi Allen and Samcro, and the mare Brandy Love is the latest star to have come from Milestone Stables in Kiltealy, Enniscorthy.
Weatherbys Ireland Champion Breeder: ANDY PIERSE
Goffs Leading PTP Sire: SHIROCCO
Tattersalls Ireland Champion Horse: BILLAWAY
ITBA Champion Mare: LA FELINE
INHSC Spring Novice Rider Series: ALEX HARVEY
TRI Champion Novice Rider: BRIAN DUNLEAVY
HRI Northern Region Champion Rider: BARRY O’NEILL
HRI Eastern Region Champion Rider: BARRY O’NEILL
HRI Southern Region Champion Rider: JAMES HANNON & BARRY O’NEILL
HRI Western Region Champion Rider: PA KING
P2P.ie Champion Lady Rider: SUZIE DOYLE
Red Mills Leading PTP Horse: SOME MAN
INHSC Champion Senior Rider: DEREK O’CONNOR
Special Recognition Award: MARY HICKEY
Healy Racing Personality of the Year: BERNARD SMULLEN
Race Display Champion Handler: COLIN BOWE
The Irish Field Champion Rider: BARRY O’NEILL