Smyth takes the big one but everyone's a winner on night for heroes
Trying to trace the origins of Ireland's brilliant horsemen and women is like trying to trace the beginning of time. It has always been that this little nation has embraced horse care and management, which seems to be embedded in many people’s DNA.
It may come as something of a surprise that acknowledging the efforts of such brilliant horse people is a relatively new idea, and the latest Godolphin-backed Stud and Stable Staff Awards on Tuesday evening serves as a beautiful insight into the lives of those responsible for making our sport possible.
A total of €80,000, as well as specially commissioned trophies, is dished out at the ceremony at the Newpark Hotel in County Kilkenny, but the significance of the evening reaches far beyond money.
Special guest is Kilkenny hurling manager Brian Cody, a man revered like a god in these parts. The king of Kilkenny gains another crown for being king of the selfies on the night, and in between snaps he takes to the stage to join master of ceremonies Richard Forristal, the Racing Post's editor in Ireland.
“When you're up in Croke Park the manager and the team are up at the front, but it's the people behind the scenes who play a huge part in the success we've enjoyed,” says Cody.
“We are all involved in our sport because we love doing what we are doing and that is obvious here tonight in the racing game. Everybody is so important in the whole set-up and we're all just one team – if everybody doesn't pull together the whole thing can easily fall apart.”
The hugely popular Shona Dreaper is first up as she collects the Racecourse Award on behalf of Punchestown.
The Racing and Breeding Support Services Award goes to James Flanagan, farrier for Shona’s father Jim Dreaper, who trained Notre Pere and Merry Gale and whose father Tom trained Arkle.
Upon receiving his prize, Flanagan jokes: “It’s a long time since the Dreapers notched a double and I didn’t think it was going to happen for us tonight!”
The Administration Award goes to Catherine McAvinney, practice manager for Anglesey Lodge Equine Hospital.
Sarah McCrory, who is already a head girl for Ted Walsh, takes the Newcomer Award and, along with her prize of €2,500, wins a five-day trip to Dubai.
There is a local success too, as Kilkenny trainer Eoin Griffin sees his head girl Elaine O’Donovan scoop the prize for the Horse Care Award.
South African native Adrian Taylor, assistant trainer to Jim Bolger, wins the In The Saddle Award and explains how he landed in Coolcullen in 1984.
With the intention of coming to Ireland to work for Vincent O'Brien, Taylor penned a letter to the then Ballydoyle trainer, who suggested he spend three months work experience with someone else and recommended an 'up and comer’ called Jim Bolger.
Taylor recalls approaching Bolger after his three months were up to tell him he was ready to go to O’Brien’s – only for Bolger to respond by saying: "I will tell you when you are ready to go!"
More than 30 years later, Taylor says: “I am still waiting for the nod,” generating much laughter among the audience.
Patrick O’Brien, travelling head man for Dermot Weld, is the winner of the Travelling Head Person Award, and he says: “I’d love to keep going for another 20 years.”
If longevity is something O’Brien is striving to achieve, he has only to look as far as the next table, as a spritely Tommy Woods bounces his way to the podium to receive the Dedication to Racing and Breeding Award.
The 75-year-old fell on the gallops three years ago and broke his pelvis as well as vertebrae, and rides only “the quiet ones” at Paul Nolan’s these days.
The "big one of the night", as Cody labels it, is the Irish Racing Excellence Award and it goes the way of Owen Smyth, head stallion man at Kildangan Stud.
Smyth, who has been at Kildangan since 1988, also wins the Leads by Example Award on the night.
He offers a touching tribute to all families involved in racing, saying: "It means everything to me. Us as horse people get a cup of coffee in the morning and go out the door and get to play with horses all day.
"The real heroes here are the people at the other side of the door who run the family home. I would like to dedicate this to the love of my life, my wife Lorraine, and to everybody's husband and wife who lets us off to play with horses for the day."
Without the likes of Smyth, and of course his supportive family, horseracing would simply not exist.
The genuine appreciation for the stud and stable staff of our industry among all key stakeholders is something to behold on the night. These awards may be a relatively new idea but they're here to stay.