With the 2011 Flat race Summer Season due to end on Sunday 6th November at Leopardstown, the battle for the Jockeys’ Championship is coming down to the wire with Johnny Murtagh leading Pat Smullen by just two winners (69 to 67). With just 15 race meetings and c. 100 races every race will count.
Johnny Murtagh has been champion on four occasions and has enjoyed another excellent season highlighted by his first victory in the recent Irish Field St Leger at the Curragh on Mark Johnston’s Jukebox Jury (on whom he dead-heated for first place), while just last Saturday he partnered the Ger Lyons trained Lightening Pearl to a thrilling success in the Cheveley Park Stakes at Newmarket.
His great rival, Pat Smullen, has won the Jockeys’ crown on six occasions including last season and once again Pat’s association with the Dermot Weld stable has brought numerous big race successes during the year with Emulous winning the Coolmore Fusaichi Pegasus Matron Stakes at Leopardstown, while prolific winner Famous Name notched up another four victories at Listed and Group 3 level. Pat also enjoyed a fantastic Galway Festival partnering no fewer than 12 winners over the seven day meeting which is a modern day record and he is sure to push Johnny all the way in what should be a terrific battle over the coming weeks.
Last year’s Apprentice Championship produced the most exciting finish ever with the crown eventually being shared three ways by Joseph O’Brien, Gary Carroll and Ben Curtis but this time round it doesn’t appear there will be a need for a photo-finish as Joseph O’Brien has a comfortable lead after his double at the Curragh yesterday. He currently leads Shane Foley by nine winners (45-36) with Ben Curtis just one back in third place on 35 and is virtually certain to take the crown. Joseph has had a wonderful season with his memorable victory on Roderic O’Connor in the Abu Dhabi Irish 2000 Guineas at the Curragh in May giving him his first Classic success while he also partnered the talented Maybe to win the Moyglare Stud Stakes over the same course in late August.
Joseph’s father, Aidan O’Brien, has a strong hold on the Trainers’ Championship and he currently holds a sizeable lead over his nearest rival, Dermot Weld in terms of prize money, while he also leads the table in terms of number of winners trained as he has saddled 78 winners to Dermot’s 63. The leading owner is currently Michael Tabor who leads Derrick Smith by €38,000.
Four custom-made perpetual Irish silver trophies that have been made especially for Horse Racing Ireland will be presented to the Champions; these have been made by master craftsmen from Alwright & Marshall, Fade Street, Dublin. Each is set on a mahogany base and engraved with the names of the champion jockeys, trainers, owners and apprentices since 1950. The champions will also receive a hand-made silver tankard with a solid silver horse’s head as its handle to keep as a memento of their achievement.
Last year the Flat Championship ended on Friday 10th December in Dundalk, the Flat season has finished in December since Dundalk opened in 2007. This year the Flat finale is reverting back to its traditional conclusion when the Turf racing comes to an end in Leopardstown on Sunday 6th November 2012. The Louth venue now runs its own Winter Season with a separate Jockeys Championship which starts on Friday 11th November 2011 and runs to Friday 23rd March 2012.
Racing today is at Roscommon, the Grade 3 Kilbegnet Novice Chase is the highlight of an eight-race mixed card where the action gets going at 3.05pm.