Wexford rules roost
Seven trophies secured at awards
Co. Wexford's dominant position in the Irish point-to-point scene was strongly reinforced in the season just ended, and seven of the top trophies came to the county at the well-attended 38th Irish Field national awards gala at Clayton Whites Hotel on Saturday night.
The figures illustrate the point very clearly, with three of the top four riders and eight of the top 20 trainers, including the first three in the table, being from Wexford.
Barry O'Neill pipped Jamie Codd to take his first leading rider title in a battle that went right down to their last race of the season, 66 winners to 65, seven better than his previous seasonal best last year when he was second to Codd. O'Neill passed the 400 career winner mark during the year.
O'Neill also won the Eastern Region award, which Codd had won for the past eleven years, by 28 to Codd's 19, with Rob James third on twelve.
Codd did not go away empty-handed: he retained the Senior riders' award (for over-35s) which he took for the first time last season, the first Wexford man to win this. Of course, he beat Pat Mullins by one in an equally amazing amateur riders' battle on the track. To come so close to doing the double was remarkable.
He also shared the Southern Region title, his successive doubles over the last three days forcing a draw with Rob James on 24 winners, with perennial winner Derek O'Connor third on 18.
This was the first time for this award to come to Wexford. It was a marvellous season for James from Killanne, his overall total of 43 winners smashing his previous best of 25 for a share of twelfth overall in the table.
Shane Fitzgerald won the leading novice riders' award. From Buttevent in Cork, he is based at Michael Goff's stable at Clondaw, Ferns, which supplied him with quite a few winners. A double at Kinsale on the last weekend for Goff and Shay Slevin from Kiltrea, Caim, allowed him to leapfrog Liam Quinlan and claim the honours, 13 to twelve.
The story was just the same in the trainers' table, with Colin Bowe from Kiltealy claiming his third successive title and his fifth in total. He had a great partnership with Barry O'Neill and they shared 25 winners as Bowe passed the 250-winner milestone during the season.
Second was Donnchadh Doyle, his neighbour at Monbeg, Ballindaggin, with 27 winners, and he exceeded a career mark of one hundred winners after just six years. Third was Denis Paul Murphy from Ballyboy, The Ballagh, on 25, eclipsing his seasonal best of 18 and grabbing a hatful of the lucrative four-year-old maidens. He passed a career tally of 150 winners after ten seasons.
Bowe was also winner of the mares' handlers' award with ten winners, just pipping David Christie from the north by one. To put even more icing on the cake, he won one of five €1,000 vouchers put up for raffle by Irish Thoroughbred Marketing among the 98 trainers who sent out mares to win during the season. The money will go towards the purchase of a filly at the upcoming sales.
Liz Lalor from Clonmel won the lady riders' championship and there was a massive Wexford involvement.
Four of those wins were on the ill-fated Sprintingforgold trained for Monbeg by James W. Doyle in Monageer, and the clincher on the final day was Better B Quick, trained in Duncormick by Ashleigh Murphy and owned by husband, Michael.
An amazing feature of the season was the success of the Monbeg Syndicate which clocked up 62 winners, thanks to the three Doyle brothers (Donnchadh, Seán Thomas and Cormac), and the unrelated James W. Doyle at Monageer.
The big guns win the awards, but there is wonderful strength in depth in the Wexford point-to-point scene, and the more casual riders, and the 'small' trainers who have just a couple of horses, are an integral part of the sport and a great many of them take their share of the pie.
Twenty-three Wexford jockeys (just 4.5% of those with winners) took 259 races between them; that is a massive 44%. On the training front, 230 handlers nationally sent out winners, with 125 of them having a single winner.
Thirty-one Wexford trainers shared 175 wins; 7% of the trainers took 30% of the winners, and they dominated the lucrative four-year-old maiden races, leading on to great success at the sales. The county is punching way above its weight.