Wexford clan achieve lifelong ambition at the RDS

Roche family win the Dublin Horse Show Breeders' Championship which had eluded them for 40 years

John Roche leads Assagart My Only Hope on the parade of champions in the main arena, followed by her colt foal Assagart Lord Lancer, led by Sian Krysten Webb
John Roche leads Assagart My Only Hope on the parade of champions in the main arena, followed by her colt foal Assagart Lord Lancer, led by Sian Krysten Webb

Siobhán English

Horse breeders always want to produce the best, and winning a Breeders' Championship at the Dublin Horse Show is a lifetime's ambition for many.

For some 40 years until his untimely death in 2011, Michael Roche tried valiantly but in vain to bring home the cup. Just two weeks ago, however, his son John added the Breeders' Championship accolade to the many other championships the Roches have won over the years at the RDS.

It was indeed a dream come true for John, and his mother Mary Margaret. "It was particularly emotional as my father tried to buy the mare, Assagart My Only Hope, from her breeder Gerard Kelly as a foal but his offer was turned down," John said.

"We later found out that she was sold to Dermot O'Sullivan, and she won many championships for him as a two and three-year-old.

"My father had passed away when we saw her again last year at Limerick Show when my mother advised me to make an offer on her. I did, but it took me almost a week to finally close the deal," he laughed.

There's no doubt it was most definitely worth the wait, and Michael was there in spirit as the nine-year-old daughter of Big Sink Hope was crowned 2014 champion along with her colt foal, Assagart Lord Lancer.

"We were a long time waiting for this one, but we finally did it," said John, admitting that it was difficult to hold back the tears when the mare's number was called out.

"I just could not believe it and threw my eyes to heaven. Sadly Dad never managed to win it, but he still holds the unbeaten record of six Coote Cups for champion mare with Assagart Kit. Before this big win I had finished fifth in the same Breeders' Championship three times - in 2004, 2010 and 2012 - from eleven shows.

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"On top of that we had a horse finish second in the middleweight hunters with Maura Rooney. That was the four-year-old Assagart Mistress, winner of the Limerick Lady Championship in 2012."

Her dam Assagart Millennium was twice a winner at Dublin, as a lightweight hunter, and later as a broodmare.

Those in breeding circles will have been familiar with the Assagart name for many years, and the Roche family of Foulksmills, Co Wexford are legends in their own right. "It could have all been so different though if Dad had decided to sell our foundation mare Assagart Kit as a foal in 1973," says John.

Both the foal and her dam Assagart Pride had been earmarked at the RDS by top Italian show jumper Graziano Mancinelli, but Michael resisted and instead parted with her yearling full-sister.

While Assagart Pride went on to breed three show jumpers in Italy, Assagart Kit took pride of place at the Roche's Bell Lodge Stables and kick-started a hugely successful bloodline.

Assagart Prince is well remembered as one of the first home-breds to fly the Irish flag. Reserve champion at the Dublin Horse Show as a two-year-old and winner of the Pembroke Cup that year and 1983, he went on to achieve much success in the eventing field with Jeremy Spring and was short-listed for the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

Also achieveing success was his full-brother Assagart Joy, ridden by Paddy Byrnes.

"Back then we mostly used the stallion Retieme, who stood with James Kent in Adamstown, but we had one by Trombone called Assagart Trom Prince which was reserve two-year-old champion in 1981 before going to England to be competed in showing by Robert Oliver. He went on to win the hunter championship at the Horse of the Year Show in Wembley."

The following year John's grandfather, also John, won a Power's All-Star award in 1982 for his achievements as a breeder.

"I remember the year we won the first Coote Cup in 1977 with Assagart Kit. I was just two years old and we have photographs of me sitting in the cup at home. Two years later she did it again, and the same year her two-year-old colt Assagart King won the Laidlaw and Pembroke cups as champion young horse. We have been told this feat has never been repeated, although we won the Laidlaw, Maude and Pembroke cups in 1993 with Assagart Clem," John said.

Following this latest success, John now has the honour of being the third generation of the Roche family to produce a champion at the Dublin Horse Show.

"But I nearly got out of horses altogether on receiving my Green Certificate from Kildalton College in 1993. It was only when my father failed to sell two horses at Goresbridge in 1996 that I decided to go back Grand Prix show jumping, having competed for a time in ponies."

John recalls two horses in particular -Assagart Quest who was later sold to England, and Assagart Unique who went on to Scotland.

Further down the line came Assagart Rose which produced the show jumper Killock Charm. She competed up to 1.40 metre level in Canada for Erin Taylor before being retired to stud.

While Assagart Kit holds an incredible record of show wins, so too does her great grand-daughter Assagart Saviour. In 2012, she earned her owners a special award for her achievements in the ring following her fifth placing in the Breeders' Championship. Since then she has been reserve champion mare twice at the RDS.

Her dam Assagart Kitty also produced the Flagmount King mare Assagart Wonder who was reserve champion broodmare in 2010 and placed a creditable sixth in the RDS again recently with her colt foal by Coroner.

"Coroner has sired some lovely foals for us in the past and Assagart My Only Hope is now also in foal to him," said John.

"The foal by Castleforbes Lord Lancer that won in Dublin should turn into a lovely young horse," he added.

"The connections were absolutely thrilled as well when we won," John said, adding that the whole family joined in the celebrations. The gathering included his five sisters, his wife Catherine, sons Jamie, 5, and Cathal, 2, as well as the mare's former owner Dermot and loyal groom Sian.

"It has been an incredible few weeks, and I am so grateful to all my sponsors for their support, but now it's back to work to milk cows, and sell some thoroughbreds," he said as he went about his business at the Tattersalls Sales.

As breeder of such winners on the track as Pay It Forward and According to John, it seems there's no end to John talent when it comes to horses.

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