Sport Horse Racing

Tuesday 22 August 2017

Title triumph would crown golden year

Pat Smullen

For the past 10 years the Offaly Association in London have been inviting me to their annual dinner dance. They were keen to make a presentation to me to mark my racing achievements and every year without fail the invitation would arrive in the post.

I was very grateful to them for acknowledging my work, but other commitments always prevented me from attending. All credit to them, though -- they kept asking.

Last weekend, I was finally able to accept the invitation. I was glad I did. The dinner dance was on Saturday night and my wife, Frances, and I had thoroughly enjoyed it. I couldn't be more appreciative of the association's generosity.

The function took place in Cricklewood, where there is a big Irish community. Many sports personalities from years gone by were there, but mainly from the hurling and football arenas, so it was nice for someone with a racing background to be recognised.

While I was there, I met Michael Duignan, the dual star and double All-Ireland hurling medallist. I had a long chat with him on the night, we travelled back to the airport together and shared the same flight home, so we had a deal of time in each other's company.

privilege

I must say I found him a very interesting man to spend time with, and it was a privilege to get the opportunity to meet one of Offaly's true sporting icons. Michael also has a great interest in racing, so we weren't short of something to talk about.

All the fun stopped when Frances and I encountered the roads home from the airport late on Sunday night. The freeze had well and truly set in at that stage so it was a fairly hairy journey, but we eventually arrived to relieve my mother of babysitting duties.

These days I don't ride out every morning like I would in the summer, which means I have that bit more time on my hands, time that gets put to good use helping Frances get the kids ready for school and so on. Daily life is low-key for me at the moment.

We have a small farm here in Offaly so, once we had our two school-goers packed off on Monday morning, I went down there to feed the cattle, the horses and the sheep.

I picked the kids up in the afternoon, though that was the last day the school opened.

Since then, it has been lovely to be able to spend time with everyone at home. The heavy snowfall has made for great excitement in our household -- I wouldn't be the greatest lover of the cold and snow, but kids love it.

I certainly wasn't enjoying it as I rode work through a blizzard for Dermot Weld on The Curragh on Tuesday. The ground and stable staff are doing everything they can to keep the show on the road up there, but it's not easy and they deserve immense credit.

Dermot has some useful entries over the weekend, so hopefully one or two will do a turn for me in my quest for the 2010 jockeys' championship. I'm currently six in front, but the boss's stable is winding down, and I rode only one winner in November.

While Dermot has got me this far, I am much more reliant on outside rides at this time of the year. Having said that, two of my best rides at Dundalk on Saturday and Sunday, Ready When You Are and Maunsells Duke, will be for him.

Schedule

If I'm truthful, I am one of a small minority sorry to see the new Dundalk fixture added to the schedule on Saturday. It's a selfish way of looking at it but, with Johnny Murtagh and Fran Berry chasing me down, I wish the whole thing were over already.

Still, I know it's better for the industry to have something on, and it does also give me further opportunities to improve my own personal best. I rode 94 winners when I won my fourth title in 2007 and I'm on 92 now, so I'm not far away.

However, the priority is just to stay in front, and I'd settle for one more now if it meant I'd win the title.

Whatever happens, it has been a great year for me. Looking back, Rite Of Passage's triumph in the Ascot Gold Cup in June was an undoubted highlight, not least because of what it coincided with at home. We had just finished building our new house and moved in that week, while Frances was due our third child at the same time.

The baby, Sarah, arrived a couple of days after I got back from Ascot. Whatever happens at Dundalk over the next few weeks, I'll struggle to better a week like that.

For more information on racing in Ireland this weekend, check out www.goracing.ie

Irish Independent

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