PAT HEALY: This week Pat Healy looks ahead to the Irish Champions Weekend and pays tribute to the new generation of Irish jockeys leading the Jump Jockey’s table.
Irish Champions Weekend
Along with the Irish Derby, there is no other event that projects Irish racing quite how Champions Weekend does to a worldwide racing audience. It’s a great showcase for our sport in Ireland and since it’s conception it just keeps growing and attracting more support, which is great to see. The Irish Champion Stakes has been classed the number one race in the world for the past couple of years and what a race it looks set to be this time round.
The two tracks that are involved over the weekend are world class venues with unrivalled facilities. Leapordstown must have one of the finest track surfaces in the world, it can cover a four-day meeting in December over the Jumps and then can continually race through the summer months from April to October on the flat. It’s a testament to the ground staff that they can keep the track in such fine shape. Of course, we’ll also be racing at the Curragh which needs no explanation, it’s just a fantastic racetrack on limestone land and quite rightly regarded as the greatest flat track in the world. Now all we have to hope for is that the weather holds out and the 4,000 spectators that will be at both tracks can enjoy the top-class racing.
It is of course, the St Leger meeting at Doncaster this week and it is unfortunate that both Group 1 events will be taking place on Saturday. The horses are obviously not conflicted between which meeting to attend but the jockeys are which makes it a shame. That said the two events have been in competition on the same day for the past couple of years now and you can’t say that one has been made poorer for it. I think that people are accepting of the situation now, and jockeys will always go wherever they think they have the best chance of a winner.
It’s not just racing that dominates this weekend in Ireland, as it’s also the All-Ireland Football Final on Saturday. One of the finalists – Tyrone – beat us [Kerry] in the final, which I’ve just about gotten over. They last won the Championship in 2008 but for County Mayo, who also compete in the final, you must go back to 1951 to see the last time they picked up the trophy! I’m really looking forward to watching it and to be honest most will be rooting for Mayo to end the 70-year drought. Conor McKenna will be representing Tyrone and he is a great racing man, with a few horses in training in Dungannon. He unfortunately scored a couple of goals against us in the semi-final, so he wasn’t in my good books for a while, but I wish him the best of luck on Saturday. It’ll be a fascinating game of football with Mayo taking slight favouritism, but it won’t be a shock to me if Tyrone come out on top.
Jump Jockeys Championship
I just wanted to finish with a quick note on the current standings in the Jump jockey’s table. The four leaders – that are all currently riding – are all kids to me! Darragh O’Keefe, Jordan Gainford, Mike O’Connor, and Shane Fitzgerald are showing that there’s a new generation coming on the block, and it’ll be great to watch how these four young lads can progress over the winter.