AIDAN O'Brien, who this year broke the world record for the number of Group 1 winners trained in a calendar year, received further accolade this week when honoured with the Contribution to the Industry Award at the annual Horse Racing Ireland Awards.
The winners in seven categories were announced at a reception at Leopardstown Racecourse which was attended by many of the industry’s leading figures. Guest of honour was Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Minister Michael Creed and guests were welcomed by Chairman of HRI, Joe Keeling.
The winners of the 15th annual awards were as follows:
• Contribution to the Industry Award: Aidan O'Brien
• Horse of the Year Award: Sizing John
• National Hunt Award: Jessica Harrington
• Flat Award: Colin Keane
• Outstanding Achievement Award: Joseph O'Brien
• Point-To-Point Award: Barry O’Neill
• Racecourse of the Year Award: Down Royal Racecourse
Sizing John, owned by the late Ann and Alan Potts, was the deserving winner of the Horse of the Year Award. He became the first horse to win three Gold Cups in one season with an unforgettable triumph in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup, coming in between victories in the Stan James Irish Gold Cup in Leopardstown and a thrilling victory in the Punchestown Gold Cup.
The National Hunt Award went to Jessica Harrington who enjoyed a terrific season with the highlight undoubtedly the brilliant Sizing John which gave her a first success in the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup with her first runner in the race. He also won the Stan James Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown and the Punchestown Gold Cup becoming the first horse to win all three races in the same year.
Also at the highest level, Our Duke took the Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas and landed the richest prize in the National Hunt calendar in Ireland when taking the BoyleSports Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse. Jessica became the leading female trainer at the Cheltenham Festival when bringing her tally to 11 winners with the victories of Supasundae and Rock The World.
Harrington said: "I started training at 42 with a six-month-old child, so it was total madness!"
The trainer added: " If you'd told me this time last year about the spring I'd have, I would have definitely sent you to the funny farm!
"It got in a roll in January when Sizing John won the Kinloch Brae and it didn't stop until the end of April. It was absolutely amazing.
"It's not just us at the top, every single person that works for me has had a hand in the success."
Aidan's son Joseph was given the Outstanding Achievement award after saddling Rekindling to win last month's Melbourne Cup.
O'Brien junior was not present, but said via video message: "Firstly I'd like to congratulate all the other nominees for this award. I thought it was an unbelievably strong category and I'm really humbled to have won it.
"I'd like to thank all the people that voted and the racing press."
Colin Keane took the Flat Racing award after being crowned Ireland's champion Flat jockey for the first time this year.
Barry O'Neill won the Point-to-Point Racing award and Down Royal was named Racecourse of the Year.
Colin Keane was the winner of the Flat Award. Having finished runner-up in the last two Irish Flat Jockeys’ Championships, the 23-year-old Meathman went one better in 2017 clinching a memorable first title with 100 winners, winning by 12. His boss Ger Lyons supplied Colin with 67 winners during the year with Psychedelic Funk’s victory in the Concorde Stakes at Tipperary and Treasuring’s triumph in the Curragh Stakes two main highlights. Colin also teamed up with the English-trained Realtra to win both the EBF Brownstown Stakes at Fairyhouse and the Fairy Bridge Stakes at Tipperary while a memorable year was wrapped up as he recorded his first Group 1 success on the Tony Martin-trained Laganore in the Premio Lydia Tesio in Italy.
Minister Michael Creed, Horse Racing Ireland Chairman Joe Keeling and Brian Kavanagh, Chief Executive of Horse Racing Ireland, presented the Contribution to the Industry Award to Aidan O'Brien who has been a leading force in the industry for over 25 years. Irish Champion flat trainer in terms of prize money won in every season since 1999, Aidan broke all manner of records in National Hunt in his early years and he continues to do so on the flat to this very day.
He became the first trainer to win the Epsom Derby in three consecutive years when Australia, ridden by his son Joseph, won in 2014, following on from Ruler Of The World and Camelot. Camelot's success was more remarkable as it was the first father/son trainer/jockey partnership to win a British classic. The pair repeated the feat with Australia in the same race in 2014 and they also landed the Doncaster St Leger with Leading Light in 2013. In October 2016, he recorded a magnificent 1-2-3 in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Chantilly when the Ryan Moore-ridden Found led home Highland Reel and Order Of St George.
Aidan enjoyed his 300th Group 1/Grade 1 winner (flat and National Hunt combined) when Highland Reel took the Prince Of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot in June and he would go on to set a new world record for the number of Group/Grade 1 wins in a calendar year. Saxon Warrior set a new mark when landing the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster and Aidan brought his tally for 2017 to 27 winners when Mendelssohn won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf early last month. Aidan was crowned champion trainer in Britain for the sixth time this year.
"I can't tell you are how grateful we are for this. It's the last thing I ever expected," said the Ballydoyle handler.
"Everybody knows our operation is a big chain, we're a small link in the chain and feel very privileged to be the link we are.
"We're always afraid to set goals because it's very rare it happens. We always take it one day at a time, one race at a time and see what happens.
"We're in a very lucky position to be working with the people that we are and with the supply of horses that we have."
Asked if he could name his favourite horse, the trainer added: "We've been lucky to have a lot of great horses. Galileo speaks for himself and when we had Istabraq we always felt we'd never get another one like him.
"He came out of the blue and he was an incredibly special horse. We always felt that no matter what he was up against, we were always confident that he was better."
Horse Racing Ireland Chief Executive, Brian Kavanagh, said: “2017 saw Irish-trained and Irish-bred horses continue to raise the bar both internationally and here at home. Aidan O’Brien has been setting a standard for over two decades and this year went one step further with a phenomenal world record 27 Group 1 wins. From an unforgettable Cheltenham with a record 19 Irish-trained winners, right through to the Melbourne Cup success for Joseph O’Brien, this has been a year to remember and celebrate.”
It was no surprise to see the Outstanding Achievement Award go to Joseph O'Brien who’s short training career has been nothing short of remarkable. He reached new heights when becoming the youngest trainer at the age of 24 to win one of the world’s most famous races, the Emirates Melbourne Cup with Rekindling which became the first three-year-old to win the race since 1941.
Closer to home, another big race successes for Joseph in a memorable first full calendar year with a licence came courtesy of Tigris River in the Guinness Galway Hurdle while Rekindling also won the Ballysax Stakes at Leopardstown and the Curragh Cup. Joseph also has the distinction of saddling well over 100 winners since January 1.
The Point-To-Point Award stays in County Wexford and went to Barry O’Neill for the first time. This season, Barry broke the 13-year stranglehold on the championship set by Derek O’Connor and 2016 HRI award winner Jamie Codd. Barry went to the top of the leading riders’ table at Tinahely in October 2016 and maintained his advantage for the remainder of the season.
He had been runner-up in the title and finished third on three previous occasions. The former dual novice champion had 295 rides which resulted in 66 winners. Barry also enjoyed another landmark in his career when he rode his 400th winner at Stradbally in April on the Jim Dreaper-trained Mullaghmurphy Blue. In addition to securing his first The Irish Field riders’ title last season, he also claimed his first Eastern riders’ title.
The Racecourse of the Year Award was won by Down Royal, one of the most popular and progressive racecourses in the country. The racecourse has undergone a huge amount of development and improvement over the past decade, and hosts the first Grade 1 race of the jumps season every year. The award was presented to racecourse chairman Jim Nicholson and manager Mike Todd.
Horse Racing Ireland Chairman, Joe Keeling, commented: “Today has allowed Horse Racing Ireland honour the wonderful achievements of the Irish racing industry throughout 2017. Many congratulations to the many nominees and the deserving winners and I wish everyone in the Irish racing industry continued success in the year ahead.”
The award winners received specially commissioned bronze trophies created by sculptor Siobhan Bulfin.
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