PAT HEALY: This week Pat reviews both the St Leger and Irish Champions Weekend, along with paying tribute to jockey Pat Smullen who passed away a year ago this week.
Irish Champions Weekend
It was a fantastic few days at Leopardstown and the Curragh. Jessica Harrington and Ger Lyons had a day they will never forget on Saturday, winning seven of the eight races between them. The one that got away, the Champion Stakes, was a real race for the ages. St Mark’s Basilica, Tarnawa and Poetic Flare are three fantastic animals and it was a brilliant spectacle to witness.
It will be fascinating now to see Tarnawa head to the Arc and what will Mr Bolger do with Poetic Flare – will he drive on again next year, will he retire him? The same with St Mark’s, will we see him again? At the end of the day, they owe us nothing, and they have been fantastic for this flat season. Horses like that don’t come along very often.
On the Sunday at the Curragh there were eight different trainers, eight different jockeys as well as eight different owners in the winners’ enclosure. It was a fantastic result and great to see everyone getting a slice of the cake. The two days cemented Irish Champions Weekend’s place in the international calendar.
Some people have written and spoken about changing the race order around to lead up to the Champions Stakes, or maybe swapping the two days, having the Curragh on Saturday and Leopardstown on the Sunday. It’s not something I agree with. If it’s not broken, then why fix it?
St Leger and Arc Trials
Hurricane Lane was very impressive in the Leger. Will he go to the Arc? Now he’s proven over a 1m 6f could he end up being an Ascot Gold Cup horse next season? There are lots of options for Godolphin. Of course, Native Trail capped a great weekend for Charlie Appleby and the owners by winning the National Stakes on Sunday. Over in France, it was fantastic to see the Japanese horse, Deep Bond, winning the Prix Foy at Longchamp.
It’s brilliant for Japanese racing and I’m sure the racing community over there and the whole country will go into overdrive knowing that they have a runner heading for the Arc. There’ll be huge excitement as there always is and it adds another ingredient to a race we’re already looking forward to so much.
Gordon Elliott return and Listowel Harvest Festival
I’m delighted to see Gordon back. It’s onwards and upwards for him now and I’m sure we’ll see him back in the winners’ enclosure sooner rather than later. We’re looking forward to welcoming him to the Harvest Festival in Listowel, which kicks off on Sunday. It’s the 163rd Listowel Harvest Festival and we’re all looking forward to a huge seven days. For me it signals the beginning of the National Hunt season.
This will be my second year as chairman of Listowel Racecourse. We’ve a few more people on the ground than we had last year, which is great to see, and I want to thank our enclosure staff, our ground staff and our secretary for the huge amount of work they have done.
Pat Smullen anniversary
We think about Pat everyday, he was a great friend. We’re thinking about Frances and his family too. I have special memories of the day he won the Epsom Derby, when we shared a taxi back to the airport. I remember waiting in the weighing room for Pat after he won and all the interviews he had to do – local radio, national radio, BBC television, Sky News, reporters – he took time with everybody.
By the time he had finished, and we were in the taxi, I said, “Pat, we might struggle to make this flight.” He just looked at me and said, “don’t worry, I’ll float home.”
He was on cloud 99 and nobody deserved to win an Epsom Derby more than him. We all miss him.