Jumping stars finish in dead heat to share HRI's top prize
Don Cossack and Faugheen were joint-winners of the Horse of the Year at the annual Horse Racing Ireland awards at Leopardstown.
For the first time, the award was shared as voters were unable to choose between the Willie Mullins-trained Champion Hurdle winner Faugheen and Gordon Elliott's five-time Grade One-winning chaser Don Cossack.
Faugheen suffered a shock defeat at the hands of stable companion Nichols Canyon on his seasonal reappearance in last month's Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, but owner Rich Ricci is confident he will bounce back when defending his crown in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on St Stephen's Day.
"I'm sorry he let the side down in the Morgiana. He's a great horse, but he flopped that day, for whatever reason," said Ricci. "I hope he comes back the next day. We still have confidence in him. Hopefully he'll do the business at Kempton and get back on track."
Mullins said: "He did cut his mouth (at Punchestown), but that took a day to recover from and most horses wouldn't feel a little cut on their mouth. I wouldn't use that as an excuse. He's in great order."
Don Cossack was last seen winning the JNwine.com Champion Chase at Down Royal at the end of October and is set to return to action over the Festive period.
The King George VI Chase at Kempton has long been considered his likely target, but connections are not ruling out Leopardstown's Lexus Chase two days later.
Gigginstown House Stud's manager, Eddie O'Leary, said: "Obviously we love him and let's hope he stays lucky. It will be the King George (next), or the Lexus. Every option is open."
Mullins picked up the National Hunt Award, while Pat Smullen was the winner of the Flat Award.
Smullen was keen to pay tribute to his boss Dermot Weld. "It goes without saying you can't achieve what I've achieved this year without having the job I have," he said.
"This was arguably our best year together and I'm hopefully looking forward to more in the future. I have a great agent in Kevin O'Ryan and it's a big team effort."
The Point-to-Point Award went to Enda Bolger, trainer of top-class hunter chaser On The Fringe, which completed the Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown treble last spring.
Bolger said: "The horse is great and obviously we're going to try to repeat what we did last year.
"I'm very surprised to receive this award as there's some great people around and I'm just honoured. I have a great horse, a great owner (JP McManus) and a great jockey (Nina Carberry)."
Rising star Jonathan Burke was given the Outstanding Achievement Award. The 19-year-old jockey dedicated the award to his late mother. "I'm doing something that I love and something that I've dreamed of from a very young age," he said.
"I'm very lucky to be in the position I'm in. I had a great grounding working for Willie Mullins, Noel Meade and Gordon Elliott. I've had great people around me and I'm very lucky."
Legendary commentator Des Scahill won the Contribution to the Industry Award, while Leopardstown won Racecourse of the Year.
Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of HRI, said: "The reputation of Irish racing and breeding is built on the achievements of the extraordinarily talented people in our industry.
"The HRI Awards allow us celebrate these trainers, jockeys and horses who give us so much to be proud of and I wish all our winners and nominees continued success in 2016."