FOR the first time since 2002, The Irish Field leading rider prize will be shared with title contenders Rob James and Barry O’Neill, electing to sit out this weekend’s final two days of the point-to-point season.

James had held the slimmest of margins entering last weekend’s action, and although the weekend started well for him, as he claimed both divisions of the four-year-old auction maiden at Stradbally on Saturday, his friend and great rival, matched that feat when riding a double of his own on the same afternoon at Taylorstown.

O’Neill then edged back alongside James when the grey Backonthegoagain claimed the Ballindenisk finale, leaving the Wexford pair on 39 winners apiece.

“We had a chat on Sunday evening after the day’s racing, and we decided to share the title,” James explained.

“It was probably the best thing to do, and as we are so close and have worked together almost every day, it is a nice way for the two of us to do it.”

Fourth in 20 years

The title success sees the 30-year-old Killanne native become just the fourth rider in the past 20 years to have their name added to The Irish Field-backed trophy, as he joins Derek O’Connor, Jamie Codd and the reigning champion O’Neill within that period.

“It is brilliant to get the first one,” James adds. “To have your name on the main title alongside the likes of Barry, Derek [O’Connor], and Jamie [Codd], who are three of the greatest riders ever, is unbelievable.

O’Neill was quick to praise his fellow champion, having witnessed first-hand his efforts.

“Rob and I have worked together for nearly 20 years at this stage,” he said. “Rob was one of the best men at my wedding, so we have been friends for a long time, and we have travelled up and down the country together going racing.

“It is unbelievable the amount of work that he has put in to get his own yard going, and how far he has now come with it. It is not easy managing that and still being able to ride at the level he has been riding at, so he really deserves this.”


“I probably had a quieter year than other years, and I was unlucky to pick up an injury for a couple of weeks too, so it is great to get across the line despite all of that,” he reflected.

“I am very lucky to have the support that I do from so many different handlers, and it is very much appreciated.”

It is not unprecedented that the overall rider’s title is shared, as the pair are now the eighth joint champions since the mid-1950s, but it is the first time that it has happened since the late John Thomas McNamara and Davy Russell shared the spoils in 2002 on 56 winners.

In 1996 the honours were divided between Tony Martin and Dermot Costello (31 winners each).

There was a three-way split in 1990 when Enda Bolger, John Berry and Paddy Graffin finished the campaign on 28 winners apiece.