Showing classes at the Dublin Horse Show are the ultimate test for exhibitors and breeders


Brian Murphy on a lap of honour aboard the Dublin Horse Show supreme hunter champion Fort Knocks
Brian Murphy on a lap of honour aboard the Dublin Horse Show supreme hunter champion Fort Knocks

Siobhán English

Each year hundreds of exhibitors across the country, and beyond, vie for their place at the Dublin Horse Show. Be it ridden, in-hand showing or show jumping classes, the competition is hot and everyone wants to take home a piece of RDS silver at the end of a long week.

For the showing enthusiasts, in particular, the five-day spectacular is the culmination of many months of hard work preparing their animals for the ultimate show case.

This week, both new and old faces will meet in Ring 1, Ring 2 and perhaps the Main Arena to battle it out for some of the most prestigious titles on the Irish showing calendar.

It was back in 1869 that the first Challenge Cup was presented for the best exhibit in the classes for hunters and young horses likely to make hunters.

Presented by the Lord Lieutenant, Earl Spencer, this cup was the first to usher in a trend of similar cups and trophies which have added to the success and sense of prestige associated with winning at the Ballsbridge showgrounds.

This was soon followed by the Pembroke Cup, first presented to the owner/breeder of the champion young horse of the show by the Earl of Pembroke in 1882. Open to yearlings, two, three and four-year-old colts, geldings or fillies bred by their exhibitors, the same criteria is observed to this day and remains as one of the most coveted.

In the early days it was won by some notable exhibitors who themselves went on to have other cups and trophies at the show named in their honour.

In its 135-year history it has only ever been won outright once after three successive wins - in 1927 by Owen Ryan from Mullingar in Co Westmeath.

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More recent winners include Seamus Lehane's Ballard Playboy, who won back-to-back cups in 2010 and 2011, and Ballard Big Bang, a winner in 2014.

In 1996 Sheila Ryan presented The Owen Ryan Perpetual Challenge Cup to the RDS in memory of her late father.

This cup would be contested by the first and second-placed fillies from the yearling, two-year-old and three-year-old filly classes and would be awarded to the champion filly of the show.

Recent winners of this title include the two-star event horse Shambo Queen B (2008) and Notalot in 2015.

On this occasion Notalot's then owner Rebecca Monahan also took home the Laidlaw Perpetual Challenge Cup, first presented in the 1920s by prominent Dublin thoroughbred breeder TK Laidlaw for the supreme champion young horse.

To date WE Wylie holds the record with five Laidlaw wins his credit, with Nat-Galway Greer a winner of four titles between 1950 and 1957. A prominent RDS member throughout his life, Judge WE Wylie is also credited with founding the Army Equitation School in 1926.

Each year the Wylie Perpetual Trophy is now presented to the winner of the JLT Dublin Stakes in the Main Arena.

Arch Point, a two-year-old gelding owned by Queen Elizabeth, is another to have claimed the Laidlaw title in 1962.

Of course those competing in the hunter rings are all familiar with the great Nat Galway-Greer, the most successful breeder of RDS champions of all time.

In addition to winning four Laidlaw titles over the years, the Co Meath showman also produced a record 10 horses to win the Perpetual Champion Cup for the supreme hunter champion of the show.

This unrivalled tally began in 1947 with the six-year-old heavyweight Mighty Fine and other winners over the years include Mighty Atom (1948) and Splendour (1949).

His 10th and final title came in 1966 with Never Forget.

The Galway-Greer Perpetual Champion Cup is now presented to the champion four-year-old hunter in his honour.

The only exhibitor or breeder to have ever come close to that record since is the late, great Frances Cash, winner of a wonderful seven supreme hunter titles for various owners and breeders over two decades.

The first of those came in 1983 aboard the four-year-old heavyweight Standing Ovation. She won subsequent titles with Overture (1986), Glengarriff (1994), Formidable (1988), Caruso (2000), Cashmere (2001), and finally Hochmagandy in 2003. Michael Hickey of Garryrichard Stud in Co Wexford is another to have left his mark at the RDS over the years, amassing six supreme hunter titles over a 21-year period with such horses as Urney Road, Foggy Wood and Golden Comet.

His sixth and final title came in 1988 with his own horse, O'Shea.

After his death in 2007 at the age of 87, the Michael W. Hickey Perpetual Challenge Trophy was presented to the RDS by his family in his memory. It is now presented to the rider of the supreme hunter champion.

To this day, the Perpetual Champion Cup for the supreme hunter champion remains as one of the most sought after accolades in showing circles.

No doubt another loud cheer will be heard in the Main Arena and beyond when the 2017 winner is announced next Saturday morning.

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