The 2019 Horse Racing Ireland Awards were recently held in mid-December where, out of a sea of exceptional nominees, a two-time Grand National winner and Ireland’s veteran jockeys were amongst the winners.
Horse of the Year, Tiger Roll
Perhaps unsurprisingly after such a stellar 2019 summer and winter season, back-to-back National winner, Tiger Roll was crowned Horse Racing Ireland’s Horse of the Year.
The Gordon Elliott trained superstar was the first horse since Red Rum in the 70s to take consecutive wins at the 2018 and 19 Grand National. The pocket rocket, who is even the subject of a book, is currently being prepared to achieve a historic hat-trick next April, as Elliott has his sights set on a third consecutive Grand National win in 2020.
So far, Red Rum is the only horse to win the big one at Aintree three times in the history of the race, but only two of those wins were consecutive (his third win was three years after his second, in 1977 – although he did place second in both 75 and 76).
As well as landing that extraordinary double at Aintree, Tiger Roll memorably claimed a fourth career success at the Cheltenham Festival in March. He was the clear, runaway winner of the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, expertly ridden by Keith Donoghue.
Tiger Roll has also consistently remained one of the most backed horses of the year by racing fans, who are united in the belief that in 2020 he’ll equal Red Rum’s Grand National wins and surpass his record.
Smullen And Walsh Are Racing Heroes
Ireland’s foremost champion jockeys, Pat Smullen and Ruby Walsh, were the double recipients of the HRI Irish Racing Hero award. The pair drew the curtain on their formidable careers within days of each other in May 2019.
Smullen, a nine-time champion flat jockey, sadly made the decision to retire from racing in the spring on doctor’s orders during his ongoing battle against pancreatic cancer. He was, however, at the centre of a fundraising campaign supporting cancer trials, which culminated with the Irish Champions Weekend Pat Smullen Race for Cancer – a race at the Curragh that raised over €2.5 million for this worthy cause.
Meanwhile, Walsh, who holds the record for being the most-winning rider at the Cheltenham Festival, as well as 12 National Hunt championships, bowed out with a win at the Punchestown festival, riding Kemboy.
Honouring The Next Generation
As well as the richly deserved honours granted to veterans Smullen and Walsh, the HRI awards also recognised the current crop of racing talent who are ushering in a new era.
Irish racing’s ‘reluctant’ heroine, Rachael Blackmore received the National Hunt award. The superstar jockey, who at the age of 29 has already ridden an astonishing total of 90 winners, has had a remarkable season in 2019. Her first Cheltenham Festival win riding A Plus Tard was added to an already impressive CV, which includes three Grade 1 wins on Irish soil and beating all entrants except Paul Townend in the Irish Jump Jockeys’ Championship.
The only other female recipient of an HRI award was Moone-based trainer, Jessica Harrington. Having previously made a name for herself as a jump trainer, Harrington had a stunning summer season, culminating in earning the Flat award. 2019 has been her best season on the flat to date, thanks in no small part to her remarkable juvenile fillies. Albigna, in particular, defied expectations to land both the Grade Two Airlie Stud Stakes on the Curragh Derby weekend, and the prestigious Grade One Prix Marcel Boussac at Longchamp.
The full list of winners who took home the Horse Racing Ireland awards on December 10th 2019 is as follows:
- Horse of the Year: Tiger Roll
- Irish Racing Hero: Pat Smullen and Ruby Walsh
- National Hunt: Rachael Blackmore
- National Hunt Achievement: Gavin Cromwell
- Flat: Jessica Harrington
- Flat Achievement: Wayne Lordan
- Ride of the Year: Billy Lee
- Contribution to the Industry: Tony O’Hehir
- Emerging Talent: Darragh O’Keeffe
- Racecourse of the Year: Naas Racecourse