Accepting his prize at the Horse Racing Ireland annual awards in Dublin yesterday, the Ryanair boss said that history showed how difficult it was for any horse to make a winning return to Cheltenham.
“We have had a three-time winner in the recent past, but experience shows how difficult it is to win a Gold Cup once, let alone twice, so I’m not expecting my horse to do that. I’m just thrilled to have won it once and I’ll enjoy every moment until someone else comes along,” said O’Leary.
War of Attrition was one of six winners at yesterday’s ceremony, with Ruby Walsh taking his third consecutive National Hunt Award, champion jockey Declan McDonogh winning the Flat Award, JT McNamara taking the Point-To-Point Award, Niall ‘Slippers’ Madden taking the Outstanding Achievement Award and Kevin Prendergast winning the Contribution to the Industry Award.
Presenting the awards, Sports Minister John O’Donoghue said Irish racing was witnessing a golden era of unprecedented success.
“The success is there because the people in this room have worked extremely hard to achieve it,” he said. “The training, the breeding, the education and the hard graft have delivered results. The organisation of the race meetings, the preparation of the tracks and the marketing and promotion of the events have delivered their own success as thousands of racegoers all over the country have enjoyed the excitement of this great sport.”
He added that a record ten winners at the Cheltenham Festival, including the coveted ‘Triple Crown’ for the second consecutive year, and a fifth Aintree Grand National victory in the last eight years, surpassed the most optimistic expectations. On the flat, the English 2000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks and the two top juvenile races in France, plus a 1-2 in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket, showed that Irish trained horses continue to compete successfully at the highest level.
Horse Racing Ireland Chief Executive, Brian Kavanagh, said 2006 was a year of great achievement on the racetrack for Irish horses and attendance and betting figures are on target to surpass last year.
“We had record prize money and a record number of horses in training, and with significant capital developments underway at Navan, Dundalk, Galway and the Curragh we have much to look forward to in 2007.”
Accepting the National Hunt Award for a third consecutive year, the four-time Irish champion jockey Ruby Walsh said he was lucky to have so many top class rides both here and in the UK. Having won the leading rider at the Cheltenham Festival award for the second time in three years, as well as winning a third consecutive Kerry National at Listowel and scoring recent successes in both the Betfair Chase and the Tingle Creek Trophy on Kauto Star, Walsh said he was looking forward riding the horse in both the King George Chase over Christmas and in the Gold Cup as well.
Flat winner Declan McDonogh arrived back in Dublin just in time for the awards, having been riding at the Hong Kong Cup meeting at Sha Tin at the weekend. He was “pleasantly surprised” to win the award after his stellar season here in Ireland.
And he also said he was delighted that “the boss,” trainer Kevin Prendergast won the award for his contribution to the industry over many years. “The success of the yard last season was underlined by the fact that I won the champion jockey prize and Chris Hayes was the champion apprentice and that’s all down to Mr Prendergast,” said McDonogh.
JT McNamara, who this year overtook Enda Bolger’s all-time record of 413 point-to-point winners and now has his sights set firmly on the 500 winner milestone before he retires, was the deserving winner of the Point-To-Point award, while Grand National winning jockey Niall Madden was a popular winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award after his victory on Martin Brassil’s Numbersixvalverde at Aintree.
In the 2006 Horse of the Year, War of Attrition beat off competition from Dylan Thomas, George Washington, Teofilo, Brave Inca and Newmill for the award and owner Michael O’Leary praised the efforts of trainer ‘Mouse’ Morris and jockey Conor O’Dwyer for the horse’s Gold Cup victory.
“I wanted the horse to run in the Ryanair Chase, but the boys persuaded me the Gold Cup was the better option and they were proved right,” he said.