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Thursday 8 December 2016

Sizing up the competition for Horse of Year awards

Published 07/12/2011 | 06:00

Horse Racing Ireland and Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney will next Monday announce this year's Horse Racing Ireland Awards.

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Aimed at recognising both human and equine excellence in horse racing, the awards will be headed up by the Horse of the Year category, which includes last year's winner Big Zeb, Ascot Gold Cup winner Fame And Glory, Champion Hurdler Hurricane Fly, champion mare Quevega, Cheltenham Champion Chase winner Sizing Europe, and Irish Champion Stakes winner So You Think.

The nominees in the national hunt category are Bryan Cooper, Gordon Elliott, Willie Mullins and Paul Townend. The flat nominees are Seamie Heffernan, Johnny Murtagh, Aidan O'Brien and his son, Joseph.

Nominees for the Outstanding Achievement Award include Tom Doyle, Arthur Moore, Colm O'Donoghue, Ger Lyons, Nina Carberry and Dermot Weld. Trainers Colin Bowe and Ian Ferguson and jockeys Jamie Codd and Derek O'Connor make up the point-to-point category.

Here, we take a look at the Horse of the Year nominees:

Hurricane Fly

Unbeaten on his five starts in 2010-2011, Hurricane Fly reigned supreme in the two-mile hurdle division on both sides of the Irish Sea. A comfortable winner of the Hatton's Grace Hurdle at Fairyhouse, he subsequently landed the December Festival Hurdle at Leopardstown and the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle. Having missed Cheltenham twice due to injury, Hurricane Fly finally got his chance to shine on national hunt racing's biggest stage in March and he certainly didn't disappoint as he won a hotly contested Champion Hurdle in fine style.

Even better was to come in the Rabobank Champion Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in early May, as he left horses of the calibre of the previous year's Champion Hurdler, Binocular, trailing in his wake.

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This Montjeu son has the potential to become one of the all-time great hurdlers and looks the best that Ireland has produced since Istabraq.

Big Zeb

Colm Murphy's charge notched up three wins and two second placings from just five outings this season. Successful in the Fortria Chase at Navan on his seasonal debut, he subsequently landed the Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Chase at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting. Late January saw a surprise defeat by old rival Golden Silver in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown, but he still started favourite to win back-to-back Queen Mother Champion Chases at Cheltenham in March. On the day he found Sizing Europe too difficult to peg back as he finished an honourable second.

However, he gained revenge on Sizing Europe in a thrilling battle for the Boylesports.com Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival.

Fame And Glory

He began his season with two listed race victories in the Vintage Crop Stakes at Navan and the Saval Beg Stakes at Leopardstown. In mid-June, he justified favouritism in the Ascot Gold Cup, defeating Opinion Poll to become the sixth consecutive Irish-trained winner of this famous race under Jamie Spencer.

After a break, he suffered a surprise defeat at the Curragh in late August before finishing a remote fourth in the Irish St Leger the following month. However, he bounced back to take the inaugural running of the Qipco British Champions Long Distance Cup at Ascot on Champions Day in October, to notch up win number 13 of a remarkable 21-race career.

Quevega

This classy mare's campaign was restricted to just two outings but she delivered at Cheltenham and Punchestown.

Favourite to win the David Nicholson Mare's Hurdle for the third consecutive year at Cheltenham, she won it by 10 lengths, before being aimed at the Ladbrokes.com World Series Hurdle at Punchestown in early May. She proved victorious, despite making a bad blunder at the final flight.

This mare is likely to have the same two races on her agenda again this season and a fourth consecutive Cheltenham Festival victory would put her on a select list of horses which have achieved this feat over the years -- Istabraq was the last horse to achieve it.

Sizing Europe

Having landed the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham the previous March, his owners opted to start their charge over a longer trip to see if he could be a possible Gold Cup contender. However, despite running two good races, he finished runner-up to China Rock at Punchestown and to Kauto Star at Down Royal.

Sizing Europe reverted back to two miles in the Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown and had to settle for third place, but he subsequently landed the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham in mid-March, jumping superbly to defy Big Zeb, Captain Cee Bee and Golden Silver and provide an Irish 1-2-3-4.

At Punchestown in May, he once again tried to burn off the opposition from the front but found old rival Big Zeb too good for him and he lost out.

So You Think

A five-time Grade One winner in Australia, So You Think made a spectacular Irish debut when powering to a 10-length victory in the Mooresbridge Stakes at the Curragh in early May, before winning the first of his three Group One races this season.

The following month he was nabbed by Rewilding in the Prince of Wales Stakes at Royal Ascot but in early July he won the Coral-Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, beating last year's Epsom Derby and Prix de l'Arc hero, Workforce.

So You Think then saw off a strong challenge from Snow Fairy to land the Red Mills Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown.

He followed with a fourth place in the Prix de l'Arc and a narrow defeat in the Qipco Champions Stakes at Ascot. A tilt at the Breeders Cup Classic resulted in him finishing an honourable sixth on the dirt.

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