Huge support for Smullen at Curragh
The Longines Irish Champions meeting staged last Saturday and Sunday at Leopardstown and the Curragh is the richest weekend in the Irish racing year, with almost €5m on offer over 14 races, including six top flight Groups 1s.
Aidan O'Brien and his Ballydoyle team were in dominating form, taking a huge chunk of the cash, with six winners and countless placings, including three Group 1s.
At Leopardstown on Saturday O'Brien took four races, three of them ridden by Ryan Moore, including a 1-2-3 in the major feature, the €1.25m Qipco Irish Champion Stakes. In the other Group 1, the Matron Stakes, he had to be content with second and third behind his son, Joseph.
He nabbed two more Group 1s on Sunday but missed out on the final Classic of the season, the €600k Irish St. Leger, which went to Dermot Weld's Search for a Song (10/1) under Chris Hayes, wearing the Moyglare Stud colours so often worn to success by Pat Smullen in his years as Weld's top jockey. Second and third were O'Brien pair Kew Gardens and Southern France.
Smullen, nine times Irish champion jockey, is waging a tough battle against pancreatic cancer, and a highlight of the day was the special fundraising race for cancer trials in Smullen's honour, with many of the riders donating their riding fees for the weekend.
Treatment prevented him from riding himself, but the race was contested by nine great former champion jockeys on the flat and over jumps, including winner, A.P. McCoy on Quizzical, as competitive as ever, second Ruby Walsh on Aussie Valentine, and third, Johnny Murtagh.
Other riders in a unique event were Paul Carberry, Charlie Swan, Ted Durcan, Richard Hughes, Joseph O'Brien and Kieren Fallon.
Pat Smullen was in the parade ring to meet them all, with his mother, wife and family alongside him. It was an emotional occasion.
Aidan O'Brien sent a powerful 20-strong team to Leopardstown. He used to dominate the Champion Stakes with seven wins in twelve years, but had been denied since So You Think won in 2011.
The gap was emphatically bridged with a Ballydoyle 1-2-3 hogging the €1.25m prize fund, led in by by Ryan Moore and Magical (11/10), clear of Magic Wand (20/1) and Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck (12/1) which showed a return to form.
Moore was completing a treble for O'Brien as he had won the opening €100k 2yo stakes on Blissful (13/2), getting up on the line to pip the Ger Lyons filly, Nurse Barbara (7/2), by a nose, and the €150k Group 2 KPMG Juvenile Champions stakes on Mogul (1/2).
Aidan's four-timer came up in the €100k Group 3 Paddy Power Stakes when the well-backed Norway (from 7/1 into 7/2) scored under Seamie Heffernan, ahead of son, Joseph's Buckhurst (7/2); Aidan also filled third with pacemaker Blenheim Palace (20/1) and fourth with Mount Everest (7/1), under Moore.
Joseph took the €350k Fillies' Group 1 Matron Stakes with Iridessa (10/1), under Wayne Lordan, beating a string of his father's runners, including dual 1,000 Guineas winner, Hermosa (7/2), and Just Wonderful (12/1) under Oisín Murphy.
Favourite here was P.J. McDonald on Laurens (1/1), winner of the race last year, who led into the straight but had no answer to the first three in the final furlong. This was disappointing for Taghmon man, McDonald, who watched last year's win from a wheelchair in the parade ring as he was recovering from injury. He had stressed how much it would mean to him to score a Group 1 success on home soil, but it was not to be.
The Curragh on Sunday was very competitive with quite a few top British trainers and riders present. Ryan Moore and O'Brien had a 90/1 double, unusually high prices for horses from that quarter. Fairyland (12/1) won the €400k Group 1 Flying Five from stablemate So Perfect (12/1), with PJ McDonald third on Invincible Army (12/1).
Love (6/1) brought up the double in the €400k Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, from the gambled on Daahyeh (13/8f) for William Buick and Roger Varian, with O'Brien's So Wonderful (16/1) in third.
Buick was on Pinatubo (1/3) for the most breathtaking run of the week, winning the €400k Group 1 Vincent O'Brien National Stakes for Charlie Appleby and Godolphin by nine lengths from O'Brien's Armory and Arizona.
It was a wonderful couple of days, showing all that is best in Irish racing, in every way.