Ballydoyle to Bellewstown: the Flat has tons to offer
David Jennings on reasons to be excited about the Irish season
1. Aidan O'Brien
The most powerful trainer in world racing is right on our doorstep. From watching beautifully-bred juveniles making their debuts at Tipperary to seeing if Minding can master the boys in the Tattersalls Gold Cup at the Curragh, the Ballydoyle magician always manages to pull rabbits out of his hat. Getting a glimpse of his tricks in 2017 will be as entertaining as ever.
2. Irish Champions Weekend
Sixteen races, five Group 1s, two racecourses, one wonderful weekend. What's not to like? The introduction of Irish Champions Weekend has been one of the best inventions in Irish racing. Who can forget Almanzor's awesome turn of foot in the Qipco Irish Champion Stakes or Wicklow Brave giving Willie Mullins a first Classic success. September 9 and 10 - put it in your diary now.
3. Summer festivals
Whether you do the seven-day marathon at Galway or Listowel, or gaze in amazement at the stunning backdrop of Killarney, the summer festivals in Ireland are magic. The racing is always competitive, the atmosphere is always electric and the craic at night is always even better. We can never do anything about the weather but us Irish have developed the canny knack of ignoring what is falling around us and focusing on pints of the black stuff instead.
4. Pat Smullen
The Offaly rider has been Irish champion on nine occasions and, at the age of 39, has never been riding better. His association with Dermot Weld has been one of the success stories in Irish racing over the last decade and for the pair to team up together to win their first Investec Derby at Epsom last June with Harzand was one of the highlights of the season. He went on to complete the Derby double by beating Idaho at the Curragh. There are very few things you can guarantee in racing but Smullen having a successful season is one of them.
If you love Royal Ascot, Bellewstown might not be your cup of tea but the Hill of Crockafatha is one of the most popular venues in Irish racing and we are nearing a return to the charming little spot. Hills, bumps and turns might not suit every horse but there are plenty of course specialist and even more human regulars who have not missed a meeting at the track for decades. It is addictive. If you haven't been before, make sure to get there in 2017.