Trainers share title
Wexford leads way in great season
The 2014-'15 point-to-point season just ended was very successful for the sport in Wexford and the county can now claim to be leading the way nationally with terrific strength in depth right through the rankings, more than matching the challenge from the traditional Munster and Ulster strongholds.
The seasonal awards were presented at a glittering occasion in Hotel Minella in Clonmel on Saturday night, and the county was very well represented, with trophies being collected by the joint champion handlers, Colin Bowe and Donnchadh Doyle, and by jockey Jamie Codd, while there was a €5,000 surprise bonus for trainer Paul Martin Pierce from Killurin.
The battle for the handler's crown had lit up the season right to the last weekend. Colin Bowe from Kiltealy drew level with his friend and neighbour, Donnchadh Doyle from Ballindaggin, on the final Saturday at 28 winners each and they agreed to share the title and did not contest the final three meetings on Sunday and Monday.
It was a third title for Bowe who was successful in 2010 and 2011, and a first for Doyle, and their decision to share the title was a fair reflection of the respect and friendship they have for each other. The Wexford duo were well clear of Cork's three times champion, Robert Tyner, on 19, with Gordon Elliott fourth on 16 winners.
Doyle learned his trade for a few years with Bowe before striking out on his own just five years ago, and he has quickly risen to the top in a very competitive game.
In detail, this season Doyle had his 28 winners (and just ten seconds) from 131 runs by a total of 70 horses for a remarkable strike rate of 21.4. Bowe had 43 more runs (174), by 67 horses for his 28 winners, a strike rate of 16.1%. But he had no less than 48 seconds and if just a few of them had got their heads in front he would have been a dominant champion.
Other Wexford trainers more than held their own; Denis Murphy from The Ballagh is steadiness personified and he was seventh in the handlers' table with 12 winners from his 83 runs; Liam Kenny from Craanford ended in 14th place, his eight winners coming from just 41 runs by 13 horses, a highly creditable 19.5% success rate.
Seán Thomas Doyle, brother of joint champion, Donnchadh, and Shay Slevin from Kiltrea, Enniscorthy, had six winners apiece, and on the five mark were Willie Codd from Mayglass, and Vincent Devereux from Rostoonstown; it was the best year so far for Devereux, with his five coming from just 28 runs by his seven horses. Michael Pierce Power, part of the Hook equine dynasty, had four winners from ten runs by his four horses, a remarkable 40% win rate.
To put this in perspective, there are an enormous number of people involved in point-to-point horses in quite a small way; 260 different handlers had winners during the season, and there were many more who did not make the winners' enclosure at all.
I have reported on quite a few Wexford handlers who had career first winners this season and this one success brought great joy and satisfaction to them, making all the hard work involved with horses seem worthwhile. Horsey people always live in hope!
In the riders' table, the amazing Derek O'Connor took his title back from Jamie Codd and is champion for the eleventh time with 90 winners. He passed his 1,000th career win during the season, an A.P. McCoy-like tally that is unlikely ever to be equalled. He has described it as his best year in racing, having lost not a single day due to injury or suspension. He had a remarkable 30% strike rate.
Codd, from Mayglass but now living in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, had another terrific season also, decorated with doubles at the Cheltenham (Cause of Causes and The Package) and Punchestown (Champers on Ice and Petit Mouchoir) Festivals, along with 69 point wins.
However, those Festival wins came at a cost as he was hit with 12 days in riding bans (including a really excessive ten days at Cheltenham) and all those lost meetings scuttled his championship chances. Codd won on 27% of the horses he rode - a really strong strike rate.
He did reach two notable milestones - he passed the 700 points winner mark in March and he was a clear winner of the Eastern region jockey's title for the tenth year in a row, beating the record nine achieved by fellow Wexford rider, John A. Berry, from 1986 to 1994.
Barry O'Neill from Ballindaggin finished in third place in the riders' table on 43 wins and he led the competitive Northern region for much of the year but was eventually beaten by a number of falls and injuries, and a rash of second placings (55 for the season). O'Neill and Jamie Codd were part of the four-man Irish team that took on Britain in the international challenge. Barry is definitely a potential Irish champion in the years ahead.
The same can be said of Robbie James from Ballindaggin area, last year's novice champion; he matched that total of 21 winners this season and finished in seventh place on the table to confirm that he is a serious contender. The final tally of 113 winning jockeys puts the fact that three in the top seven in Ireland came from Wexford in perspective.
Three others made it into the top 20 and can look forward to next season with confidence - J.J. Slevin from Kiltrea, Enniscorthy, was 17th on nine wins; Shane O'Rourke from Foulksmills had eight and Jimmy O'Rourke from Silversprings, Ballycogley, had seven wins. Mark Scallan from Cleariestown, Harley Dunne from Ballindaggin, Eddie Keating from Gusserane and a few others can also feel happy with their year's work.
All involved with point-to-point in Wexford can now spend a little time reflecting on the season just finished before recharging the batteries and getting down to preparations for the new season which begins in September.
Paul Martin Pierce from Blackhall Stud, Killurin, was winner of the inaugural Irish Thoroughbred Marketing (I.T.M.) Point-To-Point Mares' Award, a voucher worth €5,000 redeemable on a filly at any of the three store sales in Ireland. The voucher was presented at the annual awards on Saturday night in Clonmel by Sarah Gavin, Marketing Executive, I.T.M.
In 2014-'15, handlers who trained a mare to win a point-to-point received a ticket for each win for an end-of-season draw. Paul, who sent out three winners for the season, said: 'I'm delighted to receive this prize. We focus on training mares because we also breed ourselves. It's a great initiative by I.T.M.'.