Monday Outlook: Year to remember for the great and good of Irish racing
As 2013 draws to a close, the list of nominees for the Irish Independent's Sportstar of the Year award is a revealing tribute to the achievements of racing's finest over the past 12 months.
Given Irish racing's continued status as a force of international renown, it has almost become the norm to see our most prominent trainers and jockeys in the mix for end-of-year gongs.
At times, the concentration of immense power among a select few can lead to critical observations and a tendency to take the remarkable feats of the likes of Aidan O'Brien and Willie Mullins for granted. However, a very strong representation among the nominees for our annual function is testament to the depth and variety of the game's many protagonists.
A famous Irish Grand National coup for Liberty Counsel sees the otherwise unheralded Dot Love and Ben Dalton feature among the contenders for the overall honour. Likewise the inimitable Mick Winters, who became the first trainer in 30 years to plunder successive Galway Hurdles with Missunited and then saddled the same mare to be placed in a French Group One from his similarly modest Kanturk, Co Cork stable.
Maybe none of those three will have the profile to emerge on top when the final votes are tallied next week, but it's fitting that their accomplishments are acknowledged beyond racing's parish.
Of course, Mullins, O'Brien and their accomplished sons Patrick and Joseph are all on the ballot paper.
All four accrued record figures in their respective disciplines, and it is indicative of Mullins' incredible prowess that he now has three fixtures at which to saddle the four winners required to beat or match the date that he achieved last year's fastest century.
Still, neither he nor O'Brien are in this for industrial scale winners, so success for Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle and Ruler Of The World in the Epsom Derby helped ensure that they both left indelible marks on the big stage.
AP McCoy is unashamedly synonymous with numerical milestones, but, for all that, he has conquered every marquee event in the calendar during his glorious career.
The irrepressible Co Antrim-born icon again brought racing onto the front pages for all the right reasons when passing the 4,000-winner mark last month. As he ploughs on relentlessly towards title No 19, there is finally a sense that his scarcely believable efforts are gaining the wider recognition they deserve.
It was also all about record figures at the two major English festivals, with nine different Irish stables producing an incredible 14 winners at Cheltenham, while Royal Ascot yielded eight. Bryan Cooper's stunning Prestbury Park treble in March thrust him into the next stratosphere.
His composure on the big day has seen him make a seamless transition from champion conditional to a trusted and sought-after name at the highest level.
The 21-year-old is one of just six nominations for the Young Sportstar of the Year award, which Joseph O'Brien won in 2011 and 2012. O'Brien, crowned champion for a second time last month at just 20 years of age, contributed to the Royal Ascot total by excelling aboard Declaration Of War in the Queen Anne Stakes. In a mesmerising opening sally the same day, Dawn Approach was one of four successive Irish winners as the brave colt bounced back from his Epsom Derby flop to clinch the St James' Palace Stakes.
Jim Bolger and his son-in-law Kevin Manning earned their nominations for his superlative 2,000 Guineas victory at Newmarket back in May.
The duo then registered a hugely popular Irish Derby success with Trading Leather – a horse Bolger also bred and owned with his wife Jackie.
Still one of racing's most revered entrepreneurs and thinkers, the 71-year-old master of Coolcullen will be inducted into the Irish Independent's Hall Of Fame at tomorrow week's ceremony. A uniquely autonomous innovator who has reinvented himself brilliantly in recent years, the proud Wexford native was a standout recommendation from the racing ranks. It is a credit to his enduring legacy that he was also deemed worthy of the accolade above all others.
POWER FARES BEST IN HONG KONG
Eddie Lynam's Sole Power, given a nod in this corner's Watching Brief on Saturday, fared best of the Irish runners in Hong Kong when second in the Group One Sprint yesterday morning.
Johnny Murtagh's mount returned a massive SP of 76/1. He grabbed the runner-up spot in the final strides, all of five lengths behind Lord Kanaloa, which was winning the six-furlong contest for a second time. Stablemate Slade Power finished 10th, while Steve Drowne broke a collarbone and punctured a lung when the Nunthorpe hero Jwala suffered a fatal fall late on.
Tom Hogan's Gordon Lord Byron kept on to finish a fine fourth in the Mile for William Buick, who was second aboard The Fugue in the Vase.
Willie Mullins was on hand to see Simenon plug on for a commendable fifth in that over an inadequate 12 furlongs, while the €2m Cup went to Akeed Mofeed, which was sold out of John Oxx's yard after hosing up in a Cork Listed race in 2012.
MARTIN WAITS ON FLEMENSTAR TESTS
Tony Martin has said that the extent of the injury that ruled Flemenstar out of the John Durkan Chase at Punchestown won't be clear until he has undergone further examinations this week.
The triple Grade One-winning chaser was withdrawn after being found to be lame on Saturday.
MULLINS' BERLAIS CONFIRMS CLASS
Sire De Grugy justified 7/4 joint-favouritism to claim a famous Tingle Creek Chase success for Gary and Jamie Moore at Sandown on Saturday.
The rapidly improving chestnut drew clear up the hill from Somersby, with fellow joint-favourite Captain Conan tiring into third on his reappearance.
At Aintree, 5/4 favourite Gitane Du Berlais confirmed herself yet another high-class Willie Mullins-trained filly by making all the running en route to an emphatic win in the Listed mares' novice hurdle for Paul Townend.
While there was no joy for the raiders in the two races over the Grand National fences, James Nash's Your Busy and Henry de Bromhead's You Must Know Me finished second and third respectively in the Grand Sefton.
Wexford native Tom O'Brien enjoyed a memorable win in the Becher Chase aboard Philip Hobbs' Chance Du Roy, with Richard Johnson earning many plaudits for sitting in the weigh-room after opting not to pull rank when his own mount was withdrawn.
5 Years Bobby McNally had gone without riding a winner prior to enjoying a smooth triumph on 10/1 shot Hold Em Cowboy for his cousin Gordon Elliott at Navan on Saturday. McNally only recently returned to the saddle after a hiatus of four years.