Legends back in saddle for Smullen Champions Race
It wasn’t just the best of racehorses getting a workout on the famous gallops on Owning Hill this week as five renowned champion jockeys were back in the saddle ahead of the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland at the Curragh on Sunday 15th September.
Four of the greatest jump jockeys of all time, Ruby Walsh, AP McCoy, Paul Carberry and Charlie Swan joined former champion Flat jockey and Classic winning trainer Joseph O'Brien at his Piltown yard as the quintet continue to get their eye in ahead of a massive fundraiser on both days of the upcoming Longines Irish Champions Weekend.
They will be joined at the Curragh on Sunday week by fellow champions Johnny Murtagh, Richard Hughes, Kieren Fallon and Ted Durcan in the nine-runner Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland over the straight mile.
The jockeys riding in the Pat Smullen Champions Race for Cancer Trials Ireland will be sponsored by the Irish National Bookmakers Association, Bar One Racing, BetVictor, Adare Manor, Ladbrokes, Ballymore Properties, Betfair, SkyBet and Paddy Power.
The race will be run as the seventh on a stellar card that boasts four Group 1s and will feature alongside a number of other fundraising activities happening over the weekend for Cancer Trials Ireland – the leading cancer research trials organisation.
Cancer Trials Ireland has two pancreatic trials ready to start - one is a trial on a new drug and another in radiotherapy, and all proceeds raised over Longines Irish Champions Weekend will ensure that they start as soon as possible.
After riding out this morning, Charlie Swan said: “It was nice to see the guys and it’s obviously all for a very special cause. I rode a few winners at the Curragh at the beginning of my career as an apprentice with Kevin Prendergast and one of my best memories of the time is beating Lester Piggott by a neck to win a handicap over the mile course that we’ll be riding on next Sunday week. I was probably 17 at the time. It is going to be a wonderful occasion and we are all very much looking forward to it.”
THE JOCKEY PROFILES
Johnny Murtagh was undoubtedly one of the greatest Irish jockeys of all time and will always be remembered as an outstanding big-race maestro. He retired from the saddle in February 2014 to concentrate on his training career. Murtagh was Irish champion rider five times and rode over 100 Group One winners around the world, and was successful in each of the five Irish Classics at least once, riding four Irish Derby winners and six Irish Oaks winners. He rode three winners of the Epsom Derby in Sinndar (2000), High Chaparral (2002) and Motivator (2005) and was successful in the English 2,000 Guineas twice aboard the brilliant Rock Of Gibraltar (2002) and Henrythenavigator (2008), both trained by Aidan O'Brien. He had an excellent record at Royal Ascot, taking the leading rider award at the summer showpiece meeting on five occasions. He rode three winners at the Breeders’ Cup and was also successful in the Prix De l’Arc de Triomphe on one occasion and the Hong Kong Vase. Johnny was also closely associated with John Oxx for many years.
The remarkable career of Tony McCoy came to an end at the end of the British jumps’ season in April 2015 as he was crowned champion jockey in Britain for the 20th successive year. McCoy enjoyed tremendous success on both sides of the Irish Sea and his final Grade 1 winner in Ireland came on the Enda Bolger-trained Gilgamboa in the Ryanair Gold Cup at Fairyhouse earlier that month. Other major Irish wins included the Grand National on the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Butlers Cabin at Fairyhouse in 2007. He won the Irish Champion Hurdle on Brave Inca in 2006 and the Lexus Chase on Exotic Dancer and Synchronised in 2008 and 2011 respectively and landed the 2015 Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup on Carlingford Lough, trained by John Kiely. The Northern Irish-born jockey broke virtually every National Hunt record in Britain. In 2010, he became the first jockey to win the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. In 2013 he won the Irish equivalent. McCoy rode his first winner on Legal Steps in a Flat race at Thurles on 26 March 1992, for Jim Bolger who he was apprenticed to. He began his riding career in England in 1994 and on 7 September he got off the mark with Chickabiddy at Exeter. He was snapped up by Toby Balding, who guided him to the Conditional Jump Jockeys’ title in 1995. Twelve months later he won the first of his jockeys’ crowns and he held the title every season until his retirement. During his time with Martin Pipe he became the fastest to ride one hundred winners and went on to set a best of 289 in the 2001/02 season. In 2002 McCoy broke Richard Dunwoody’s record for the most winners ridden by a jump jockey. He took great pride in winning his 4,000th race at Towcester on 7 November 2013 when partnering Mountain Tunes for his retaining owner JP McManus. Among the plethora of big-race successes he enjoyed were two Cheltenham Gold Cups, three Champion Hurdles and in 2010 he won the Grand National on the JP McManus-owned Don’t Push It. Among the many great horses he rode to victory were Best Mate, Big Buck’s, Brave Inca, Edredon Bleu, Jezki and Master Minded. McCoy became winning-most British jump jockey when beating Richard Dunwoody’s total of 1,699 on Mighty Montefalco at Uttoxeter on August 27, 2002.
From Kill, County Kildare, Ruby Walsh is for many people one of the greatest, if not the greatest, National Hunt jockey of all time. He enjoyed a career in the saddle that was second to none and retired on a high when winning the Grade 1 Coral Punchestown Gold Cup on the Willie Mullins-trained Kemboy at Punchestown on May 1, 2019, two weeks before his 40th birthday. A fine amateur rider in his early years in the saddle, Walsh enjoyed a glittering professional career and won almost every race worth winning in the world of National Hunt racing. He enjoyed remarkable success during his career-long association with Willie Mullins and was similarly never far from the winners' enclosure on the biggest days when riding for Paul Nicholls. Ruby is the winning-most jockey at the Cheltenham Festival and retired with a record 59 wins to his name. He was the leading jockey at the Festival on 11 occasions, riding a record seven winners on two occasions. Ruby became the first jockey to ride four winners on the same day at the Cheltenham Festival when dominating on the third day of the 2017 renewal. He won the JLT Novices' Chase on Yorkhill, the Ryanair Chase on Un De Sceaux, the Stayers' Hurdle on Nichols Canyon and the Mares' Novices' Hurdle on Let's Dance. The quartet were trained by Willie Mullins. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on the Nicholls-trained Kauto Star in 2007 and 2009, the Champion Hurdle on four occasions for Mullins (Hurricane Fly (2011, 2013) Faugheen (2015) and Annie Power (2016) and the Champion Chase three times on the Paul Nicholls-trained Azertyuiop (2004) and Master Minded (2008, 2009). Ruby won the Aintree Grand National on Papillon, trained by his father, Ted, in 2000 and again five years later on the Mullins-trained Hedgehunter. He won the Irish Grand National on Commanche Court, again for his dad in 2000, Numbersixvalverde (Martin Brassil) in 2005 and gave Willie Mullins his first success in the race when partnering Burrows Saint to win in 2019, just nine days before he retired. Ruby was crowned champion National Hunt jockey in Ireland for the 12th and final time at the end of the 2016/2017 season with 131 winners, a tally that matched his previous best, a record he set in 2007/2008. Ruby rode his most valuable winner on Blackstairmountain in the Nakayama Grand Jump in Japan in 2013 and enjoyed notable success in Australia, the USA and closer to home in France. In all, Ruby rode 2,756 winners in his career in Ireland (1,980) and Britain (776) combined.
Charlie Swan will be forever remembered for his association with four-time Cheltenham winner Istabraq, one of the great hurdlers of the modern era. Swan rode 17 winners at the Festival between 1990 and 2002, winning the Champion Hurdle in 1998, 1999 and 2000 on the Aidan O'Brien-trained gelding which had also won the 1997 Royal and Sun Alliance Hurdle. The partnership won the Irish Champion Hurdle on four occasions. Champion jockey on nine occasions, he won his first title in the 1989/90 season and retained it every season up to and including 1997/98. He was twice leading jockey at the Cheltenham Festival (1993 & 1994), riding his first festival winner in the 1990 Stayers' Hurdle on Trapper John and his final festival winner was Scolardy in the 2002 Triumph Hurdle. He had a string of big race victories to his credit. These include the Queen Mother Champion Chase, the Irish Grand National, two Whitbread Gold Cups and the Irish Champion Hurdle. His career began on the Curragh with Kevin Prendergast and he rode his first winner as a 15-year-old, on his father Donald’s Final Assault, in a two-year-old maiden at Naas in March 1983, and, after a successful spell as an apprentice, he later turned his attention to the National Hunt scene. Swan holds the Irish records for the most winners in a season (150 in 1995/96) and the most in a calendar year. Following his retirement from the saddle, he spent several years as a trainer, based in Modreeny near Cloughjordan, County Tipperary.
Richard Hughes served his apprenticeship on the Flat with his father Dessie, a former top-class National Hunt rider, who trained Hardy Eustace to win two Champion Hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival and held a dual training licence until his untimely death in November 2014. His first ride was on Scath Na Greine who finished 10th at Naas in a six-furlong maiden on March 19, 1988 and his first winner came on Viking Melody in a 12-furlong maiden at Roscommon in August of the same year. He moved to Britain in 1994 and enjoyed great success up to his retirement from the saddle in August 2015. He was Prince Khalid Abdullah's retained jockey from 2001 to the end of 2007 and rode regularly for Richard Hannon, both senior and junior. At Windsor on October 15, 2012, he had seven winners from a possible eight and became only the second jockey after Frankie Dettori to ride seven winners at a single British meeting (Dettori had seven wins from seven rides at Ascot in 1996). Richard was British champion jockey on three occasion, in 2012, 2013 and 2014. He enjoyed two British Classic wins on the fillies Sky Lantern (QIPCO 1,000 Guineas 2013) and Talent (Investec Oaks 2013). In Ireland, Hughes won the Irish 2,000 Guineas in 2010 on Canford Cliffs. Richard rode 31 Royal Ascot winners, he enjoyed Breeders’ Cup success in America and notable success in France. Richard continues to train with great success in Britain.
One of the most popular figures in Irish racing in recent times, Ratoath’s Paul Carberry was one of the all-time great National Hunt jockeys. He began his career on the Flat and was champion apprentice with 27 winners in 1993 but made his name over hurdles and fences. Never short of success, he enjoyed a fine association with trainer Noel Meade and was champion National Hunt jockey in the 2001/02 and 2002/03 seasons. Carberry scored the perfect hat-trick when riding a winner on the Flat, over hurdles and over fences at the same meeting at Galway on Monday, September 5th, 1994. In all, he rode 14 winners at the Cheltenham Festival and landed the Aintree Grand National on Bobbyjo, trained by his father Tommy, in 1999. He also won the Irish Grand National on the same horse at Fairyhouse the previous year. Carberry will also always be remembered for his association with the mercurial five-time Grade 1 winner Harchibald, second in an epic Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 2005. On August 9th, 2016, Paul Carberry announced his retirement from the saddle having failed to fully recover from a fracture of his left femur in a fall at Listowel in September 2015.
Eldest son of champion trainer Aidan, Joseph O'Brien began riding in 2009 and the following year shared the Champion Apprentice title with Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis. In 2011, he was still just 17 years of age when riding his first Classic winner on Roderic O'Connor in the Irish 2,000 Guineas at the Curragh. He won the Champion Apprentice title again that season and rounded off the year by becoming the youngest jockey, at 18, to win a Breeders' Cup race when successful on St Nicholas Abbey in the Breeders' Cup Turf. He was Champion Jockey in 2012 and easily retained his title in 2013 when he set a new record of 126 winners in a season, comfortably eclipsing Michael Kinane's 20-year-old figure of 115 winners. In October 2015, O’Brien announced that he would begin to train point-to-pointers and he rode what would prove to be his final winner at Gowran Park later in the same month. He took over the running of the family’s training establishment at Piltown, County Kilkenny, and was widely credited with the success of a number of horses, including the 2016 Triumph Hurdle winner Ivanovich Gorbatov, although his father was the official trainer. In the days before Ivanovich Gorbatov’s Cheltenham success, O’Brien had announced his retirement from riding. In all, he had ridden 518 winners. He enjoyed 30 Group/Grade 1 winners and 10 Classic victories. Aidan and Joseph O’Brien had become the first father and son partnership to win the Epsom Derby with Camelot in 2012 and they repeated the feat just two years later when Australia won the biggest race in the Flat calendar. Joseph also rode both horses to win the Irish Derby at the Curragh. His final Classic success came on Order Of St George in the Irish St Leger in 2015. O’Brien was granted his trainer's licence on Friday, June 3rd, 2016 and is already at the top of his profession, famously winning Group 1 races in Ireland and Britain and the 2017 Melbourne Cup with Rekindling.
Kieren Fallon, born in Crusheen, County Clare, enjoyed a long and illustrious career as a jockey primarily in Britain and assembled a quite glittering portfolio. He began his career with Kevin Prendergast on the Curragh, riding his first winner on Picadilly Lord at Navan, June 18, 1984, before moving to join Jimmy FitzGerald in 1988. He rode his first winner in Britain on Evichstar at Thirsk in April 16 of that year and rode his first century of winners in 1996. Kieren was champion jockey on six occasions (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003). He won the English 2,000 Guineas on five occasion, the 1,000 Guineas on four occasions, the Epsom Derby on Oath. Kris Kin and North Light, the Oaks on four occasions and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe twice, on Hurricane Run for Andre Fabre in 2005 and on the Aidan O'Brien-trained Dylan Thomas two years later. He was also successful in the Irish Derby on both his “Arc” winners. Plenty of his big race success came during his association with Aidan O'Brien for whom he rode as stable jockey from 2005 to 2007. Kieren retired from the saddle in 2016.
From Westport, County Mayo, Ted Durcan is a dual Classic winner and a seven-time champion jockey in the United Arab Emirates. He retired from the saddle in February of last year. Like so many big names in the sport, Durcan began his career with Jim Bolger, initially in the school holidays at a time when Christy Roche, Willie Supple, Seamus Heffernan, Paul Carberry and Tony McCoy were all there, not to mention Aidan O'Brien as stable amateur and assistant trainer. His first winner was for Bolger on Nordic Pageant at Fairyhouse in 1992, and his last was Face The Facts for John Gosden in a Listed race at Newmarket in September 2017. Durcan moved from Bolger to Jack Berry and had plenty of success for the bigger yards in the north in his early years in England, enjoying an especially fruitful association with the Tim Easterby-trained Somnus, on whom he gained a first Group 1 success in the Haydock Sprint Cup. However, he will probably be best remembered as a jockey for his long association with Dubai, and with the Maktoum family and Godolphin in particular, which besides his multiple championships led to Doncaster St Leger success on Mastery in 2009. He had previously won the Epsom Oaks on Light Shift for Sir Henry Cecil in 2007. Ted rode in excess of 1,500 winners in his career, with a best British score of 95 in 2007, and his best winter in the UAE yielding 60 winners.