John O'Connor a worthy Hall of Fame inductee at ITBA Awards
Ballylinch Stud supremo is a respected authority on breeding and racing
Another great year for racehorses carrying the IRE suffix on the track was celebrated at the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association awards held at the Heritage hotel in Killenard on Saturday night, but it was one of the country's finest human talents who took centre stage as John O'Connor was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
O'Connor, who has spent 30 years running the successful Ballylinch Stud, first as stud manager and resident vet and then as managing director, is respected across the world as an authority on thoroughbreds.
During his tenure at the County Kilkenny operation it has stood important stallions such as King's Theatre – who ranks as one of Ireland's best ever sources of jumps stock – Bob Back, Soviet Star and Lope De Vega, while Group/Grade 1 winners bred on the farm include Al Wukair, Belardo, Chriselliam, Eva's Request, Opinion, Red Rocks and Wizz Kid.
In his own right, O'Connor bred the Middle Park Stakes winner Astaire with his sister Anne Hallinan.
The lifetime achievement award was given to Bobby McCarthy, who has overseen the careers of several leading jumps sires and has had a hand in the breeding or selling of many stars in that discipline.
McCarthy joined with John Magnier to stand the first sire, Prince Hansel, at his Beeches Stud in County Waterford in 1972, and that horse was followed by Laurence O. Later came the big names Buckskin, Glacial Storm and Le Moss, and today the stud's crowning glory is Flemensfirth, sire of numerous talents such as Imperial Commander, Flemenstar and Tidal Bay.
McCarthy also bred Grand National hero Amberleigh House – by Buckskin – and pinhooked Cheltenham Gold Cup winner The Thinker.
Gerry Dilger received the Wild Geese award, given to Irish people who have made a significant impact on the thoroughbred industry outside of Ireland's borders.
The County Clare native is a worthy recipient as his Dromoland Farm in Kentucky bred last year's Kentucky Derby hero Always Dreaming and also sold the preceding winner of the Run for the Roses, Nyquist, as a yearling.
Other Dromoland Farm graduates include Dublin, Hot Dixie Chick, Elusive City, Red Giant and Saoirse Abu.
Cristina Patino, owner and breeder of the brilliant racemare Snow Fairy and last year's Listed scorers Brick By Brick and Elegant Pose, was given a special recognition award. She has been a staunch supporter of Irish breeding, in particular the Irish National Stud where she bases her mares and stands her dual Group 3 scorer Elusive Pimpernel.
The honour for National Hunt achievement was given to Ronnie O'Neill, whose Whytemount Stud in County Kilkenny stood the rags-to-riches stallion Stowaway and bred last year's Grade 1-winning jumpers Champagne Classic and Outlander.
The Niarchos family's Flaxman Stables received the award for leading older horse on the Flat, thanks to Ulysses' exploits, while Paul McCartan's Ballyphilip Stud was honoured for producing the standout Irish-bred three-year-old colt Harry Angel and Coolmore group the Laddies Poker Two Syndicate picked up the gong for three-year-old filly for Winter.
Another Coolmore entity, Liberty Bloodstock, took the prize for leading two-year-old filly for their homebred Clemmie, while Jim Bolger and John Corcoran took the honours for juvenile colt for Verbal Dexterity.
Jumps horses and their breeders on this year's roll of honour were leading staying chaser Our Duke (Billy Cooper), novice chaser Altior (Paddy Behan), novice hurdler Finian's Oscar (Richard and Martin O'Keeffe) and National Hunt mare Fayonagh (John Bowe).
Just shy of 400 industry people, including Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture attended the awards, which were streamed live on the ITBA website.
Stephen Collins, ITBA chairman, said: "The ITBA awards night is our opportunity to celebrate the outstanding successes of 2017 - a year in which Irish thoroughbred talent was displayed to an international audience. Yet again, Irish horses were to the fore winning the vast majority of all the prizes that matter."
ITBA Awards 2017 – the roll of honour
Two-year-old colt, sponsored by Goffs
Winner Verbal Dexterity
Breeder Jim Bolger and John Corcoran
Two-year-old filly, sponsored by Aga Khan Studs
Three-year-old colt, sponsored by Darley
Three-year-old filly, sponsored by Arqana
Laddies Poker Two Syndicate
Older Flat horse, sponsored by Coolmore
Flaxman Stables Ireland
National Hunt mare, sponsored by Tattersalls Ireland
Novice hurdler, sponsored by Rathbarry Stud
Richard and Martin O'Keeffe
Novice chaser, sponsored by Declan Landy Fencing
Staying chaser, sponsored by Sean Barrett Bloodstock Insurances
National Hunt achievement, sponsored by Weatherbys Ireland
Special recognition, sponsored by the Irish National Stud
Wild Geese, sponsored by Derrinstown Stud
Lifetime achievement, sponsored by Horse Racing Ireland
Hall of Fame