PAT HEALY: A lot for Brand Ambassador and horse racing photographer Pat Healy to discuss this week, as he pays tribute to both John Oxx and Enable, and updates us on the race for the Irish jockey’s title.
I’d like to echo all the tributes that have been given to John Oxx. They are all much deserved and ‘Gentleman John’, as I used to call him, will go down as one of the sport’s truly great trainers. He was a master of his trade and I’m delighted he and his wife Caitriona have decided to bow out on their terms. Hopefully they’ll both enjoy a long and happy retirement because they both deserve it.
I was very lucky to photograph both his Derby winners, Sinndar and Sea The Stars, and the one thing I remember from both of those days was the time John took with each member of the media. It didn’t matter if they were local radio or Sky News, he gave everybody time and wasn’t in a hurry. That was his way -always giving with his knowledge to others. It showed how much of a gentleman he was by the fact that all of his staff had only worked for him in their lives and had never gone anywhere else. You can’t get a much higher tribute than that.
Sea The Stars was the horse that I will always remember him by. To my mind, he was the best horse I’ve ever seen in my 40 years and I’d even put him ahead of Frankel. In my opinion, Sea The Stars would have beaten Frankel every day. For Oxx’s horse to win six Group 1s in six months was a truly remarkable achievement and it’s hard to see that feat happening again anytime soon.
It was great to see Enable retire healthy and in one piece. It was obviously disappointing to not see her win a third Arc, but she’s been fantastic for racing and a real flag bearer for the sport over the past few years. She’ll probably go down as the greatest mare ever to race on the track which just shows the scale of her achievements and hopefully we’ll be able to see her foals in action in the not too distant future. She’ll hold a special place in our hearts that’s for sure.
Irish jockeys title race
I mentioned it a few weeks ago that although Shane Foley was 13 or 14 winners ahead at the top of the Irish jockey standings, Colin Keane was really getting a head of steam up. Since then, Colin has been in fantastic form and after picking up a few spare rides from Ballydoyle, he looks like he’ll come out on top as things stand.
I don’t think there’s too much to read into that arrangement at the moment with the other jockeys that usually ride for Aidan [O’Brien] being out, but you never know what could happen in the future. People love a story and predicting what’s going to happen and maybe Colin will end up in Ballydoyle, but at this stage I don’t think there is anything in it. Colin is certainly good enough, but at the minute Aidan has a more than capable team at his disposal.
Pony racing game
It was great to see Shane Crosse win the Fillies’ Mile at Newmarket after he missed out on the St Leger a few weeks prior. With the likes of Shane winning Group 1s, it got me thinking about the pony racing game in Ireland. Shane is one of a number of jockeys like Paul Townend whose careers started on the pony racing circuit and with it currently off due to COVID, I wondered if we need to put a more of time into helping it. Jockeys like Shane and Paul have shown what the game produces and we should be wary of losing it.
One idea I came up with was that could we use Dundalk as a venue which might help to support the game. We don’t want to lose a generation of jockeys coming through the system and that might be one way we could potentially tackle the issue.
I thought it was a really nice touch from Al Basti to call the Group 3 Mercury Stakes on Friday in Pat Smullen’s name. I’m looking forward to the night and will be taking a moment to think of a great man and friend who will be sorely missed.