Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

Brian O'Connor's Latest Blog

And The Award Goes To...

Sun 31st Dec 2017, 15:17

Colin Keane with his boss Ger Lyons after he was crowned Champion flat jockey
©Healy Racing Photos
At this time of year there are no marks for originality in taking a look back at 2017, just as there are no brownie points for pointing out how Colin Keane is a shoo-in for any 'jockey-of-the-year' award floating about. Aidan O'Brien's Group 1 world record has been amply rewarded at various legitimate ceremonies as well, as has Jessica Harrington's towering achievements with 'Horse of the Year' Sizing John. But there's just enough time to squeeze in a few sham baubles too.

Like the 'What The F-- Just Happened' award which in 2017 was undisputedly the property of Padraig Beggy.

Racing history is littered with the names of great jockeys who never won the Epsom Derby. France's champion rider Christophe Soumillon still has to win racing's greatest prize. It took Gordon Richards 28 goes. And yet Beggy wrote himself into the record books on board Wings Of Eagles.

This was a journeyman jockey who'd ridden just four winners in the previous two and a half years trumping Ryan Moore and Frankie Dettori on the longest priced Derby winner for 43 years. You could hardly make it up.

The 'Grace Under Pressure' award goes to Willie Mullins for his remarkable poise just after Douvan's shock defeat in the Champion Chase.

In the same situation most of Mullins's colleagues would have headed for the hills and no one could have blamed them. Instead, as Douvan cooled down behind him, and besieged by a hack-pack, Mullins calmly and lucidly responded to questioning which in the circumstances must have been the last thing he wanted or needed.

'Breaking The Glass Ceiling' goes to Rachael Blackmore for becoming the first woman to win the conditional jockeys championship. This was pioneering stuff and considering how she has kicked on again this season, it will be fascinating to chart Blackmore's continued progress. Perhaps the most significant aspect is that few if any owners, trainers or indeed punters refer to her gender anymore.

Frankie Dettori's Arc effort on Enable was the epitome of big-race cool but the 'Ride of the Yar' award goes to Ruby Walsh for Yorkhill in Cheltenham's JLT. Considering the assortment of loose screws rattling around inside his mount, Walsh's feat in smuggling him to success was astounding.

It's always subjective as to what qualifies for 'Worst Ride of the Year' and usually that subjectivity revolves around the pocket. But even now, and with no financial interest involved, and conceding the horse still managed to win, Ryan Moore's effort on Gustav Klimt at Newmarket in July remains a memorable example of getting away with it.

There's little dispute that Enable was 'Flat Horse of the Year' and Sizing John the National Hunt equivalent.

Jessica Harrington was rightly lauded for her masterly handling of Sizing John. And Aidan O'Brien's world record just confirmed what everyone knows that he's a master of his craft. But any 'Trainer of the Year' prize has also to refer to Ger Lyons.

He provided enough ammunition for Colin Keane to become champion jockey and had his own best ever season. Third in the table had a lot to do with Dermot Weld's virus-hit season. But the man known as 'Grrrr' had plenty to be happy about in 2017.

The 'Shuffling the Deckchairs' prize must go to the Anti-Doping Task Force. It has been reconvened to try and achieve a breakthrough on finding a system of drug testing to permit the new Irish Horse Racing Regulatory Board onto unlicensed premises.

And with the best will in the world - something which appears notably absent from some of the parties involved - it's starting to look like an exercise in being seen to try and do something with little or no expectation of any sort of meaningful outcome.

The 'Talleyrand Award' for diplomacy is jointly awarded to HRI chairman Joe Keeling, for recommending a courage transfusion to some of the cabinet that approves racing's funding, and those responsible for letting disgruntlement in the North of Ireland at stable staff pension arrangements get to a stage where racing's 32 county status briefly had talk of 'Brexit' for company.

There's no competition for 'Embarrassment of the Year.' The decision to stage both the Derby and the second-leg of 'Irish Champions Weekend' at the Curragh was toe-curling. It's obvious why, but not so obvious as to stop it all happening again in 2018.

There's no competition either for 'Battle of the Year.' The tussle for the jump trainers title between Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott was the central narrative throughout the winter and spring. Neither gave an inch, not even in attempts to downplay its significance even though it was obvious to everyone how much it mattered to them.

The 'Strewth' prize goes to Joseph O'Brien and Rekindling for leading an Irish 1-2-3 in the Melbourne Cup. When Dermot Weld broke the mould with Vintage Crop it was pioneering stuff. Now Flemington is starting to look like a very familiar backyard indeed, mate.

Churchill gets two awards. There's the 'Anti-Climax' one since who would have predicated after his dual-Guineas success that he'd never win again. And there's the 'Doing The Same Thing Over And Over And Expecting A Different Result' gong after he became the latest Ballydoyle turf star to find the sudden switch to dirt at the Breeders Cup too big a shock to the system.

'Shock Result' has to be Killahara Castle becoming the first 200-1 winner in Ireland earlier this month although the sight of Faugheen getting pulled up at 2-11 last week can't be far behind.

And finally the 'Cat That Got The Cream Smile Of Vindication' goes to the British head of handicapping Phil Smith.

He got it both barrels on the run in to Cheltenham with anti-Irish accusations being flung around. Presenting Percy in particular became a cause celebre after being rated 6lb higher in Britain compared to his Irish mark. Yet he hosed up in the Pertemps and Irish trained horses won seven of the ten festival handicaps overall.

Happy New Year.

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