By Pat Smullen
The Longines Irish Champions Weekend was everything that we had hoped for and more. There’s no question that there was the biggest buzz at the Curragh since it reopened, not because of me but because of what we were trying to achieve, and there was an electric atmosphere for the charity race. It was something really special and hopefully that atmosphere will return again to the Curragh in the very near future. It shows what a brilliant facility it is once given the chance.
Eva Bucher-Haefner generously gave her suite at the Curragh for all the riders in the race and their families, so we had a great day and that spilled on to dinner in the evening. You would have sworn that AP McCoy had won the Gold Cup, he was absolutely buzzing. The way he celebrated the win, that’s what the public came to see, and he made it a special day, as did all the lads.
We won’t know the final figure raised for Cancer Trials Ireland for a little while but what I can say right now is that I really do appreciate everyone getting involved and donating, whether it was one euro or one pound, every penny helped. I really am hesitant to single out people to thank for their donations but there was a handful of people who made significant donations which obviously will make a huge difference to the charity. Eva Bucher-Haefner and JP McManus got the ball rolling with significant donations. On the night of the dinner, Sheikh Hamdan announced through his manager of Derrinstown Stud, Stephen Collins, that he had donated €500,000 to the charity and Sheikh Mohammed is also making a donation. Taking all that into account we have now broken the €2 million barrier.
Words fail me, but in the words of the people at Cancer Trials Ireland, it’s a game-changer, and for the organisation to say that to us makes the whole thing worthwhile. That wouldn’t have happened without the incredible generosity of the general public, of the stable staff, my fellow jockeys and everyone within the racing and breeding industry.
I started out working as a stable lad and I know how hard-earned the money is and the work that goes into getting those horses looking so well. For the stable staff to have donated their best turned-out prizes and some of their winning bonuses was something that really touched me.
I had a dream at the beginning that we would be able to donate €1 million to the charity and I think people thought I was a bit crazy, so then we thought if we made €500,000 that would be brilliant, but to end up with what we have gathered here is just mind-blowing.
The most important thing I want people to know is that every single cent goes to Cancer Trials Ireland for their vital work in pancreatic cancer trials. Loads of people gave up their time and everything was sponsored—from the cups that were sold to the dinner on Saturday night—everything was covered and the sum now going to the charity is going to make a huge difference. Hopefully it’s a good thing, not just for Cancer Trials Ireland and for awareness, but also for the Curragh racecourse as well. It was a tiring weekend but I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Some Great Racing Too
It was very important for the whole weekend that the spoils were somewhat evenly divided. Yes, there was some domination from the O’Briens on the Saturday but it hasn’t always been that way recently—it has actually been a tough meeting for Ballydoyle in the past couple of years—and it just proves that it’s swings and roundabouts in this game.
Magical (Ire) with a very deserving winner of the Champion Stakes. Most horses would have had their hearts broken by running behind Enable (GB) but she came back and put up a fantastic performance. Full marks to Ballydoyle and to the mare herself. I desperately wanted to see Deirdre (Jpn) win but she just didn’t have the rub of the green in the race. I think the best horse won but it would have been nice to have seen Deirdre have a bit more luck and to finish second.
The performance of the weekend was undoubtedly Pinatubo (Ire). It was a devastating performance. I spoke to William Buick after the race and when a jockey’s immediate reaction is that he’s lucky to have the horse, then I think that tells us all about what Pinatubo means to the Godolphin team and the quality of horse they have. I don’t think we’ve seen a performance from a 2-year-old as dominant as that for a long time. Dare I say it, but there was a little bit of a feel of Frankel about it. It’s unfair to a young horse to compare him to Frankel, but to beat proper horses with the ease that he did, and the distance he put between himself and them in the last furlong made it a performance that will live long in the memory.
It’s very difficult to keep a young horse going right through the season like that and everyone will be asking whether or not he will train on, but he looks a big, scopey horse. The quotes from Charlie Appleby seem to imply that he is not a flashy worker in the mornings. I love that in a good horse, though it can be a little bit daunting as you have to take things a little bit on trust as you go to the races. But having a laid-back demeanour will give him every opportunity to keep improving and progressing. Hopefully that will stand him in good stead for next year.
Looking to next season, if you had to have one horse from all the 2-year-olds we’ve seen so far, you wouldn’t look beyond Pinatubo. It’s great to see Godolphin with a very good horse and it was brilliant to see William Buick back in full health and riding a Group 1 winner.
Song Hit The Right Note
I’ve been riding Search For A Song (Ire) in her work a lot this year and I’ve said before in this column that I hold her in very high regard. Dermot Weld is just extremely good when it comes to this type of horse. I was very hopeful that she would run into a place and get black type in a Classic—that would have been a big result and we would have taken that before the race. But as Dermot has shown with these staying horses, they get better and better with time, and he has proved that again with this filly.
Everything went wrong in the race, and Chris Hayes would be the first to admit to that. Search For A Song can be keen and she likes to get on with it. They went very steady and she was just far too keen. I don’t know if Chris had much choice in the matter but letting her go to the front was the right thing to do as she ended up in the right place in the race as there was still a lack of pace. She undoubtedly has a lot of ability and fortune sometimes favours the brave. That move to get to the front and to be left alone in a slowly-run race played to her advantage and she kept galloping to the line.
She will race on next year but obviously to have a filly of that quality to go back to Moyglare Stud eventually is what it’s all about for any breeding operation. To have a Galileo filly with Classic-winning form, who will hopefully add to that next year, is hugely exciting for the future. It was fantastic to have a filly in the Moyglare colours win the final Classic of the year for Eva Bucher-Haefner. For me personally it topped off an amazing weekend.