Without fear of anyone disagreeing with me, the best moment of the week for me has to be the successful charity day held this week at Limerick. Sporting authorities, which ever sport it may be would struggle to arrange such an event at such short notice yet three months ago, the card at Limerick did not exist. But tireless work from a nine-strong committee made sure what could of been looked upon as a dream became reality
The paralysing falls of Limerick amateur JT McNamara and Antrim’s Jonjo Bright in March has put the Jockey’s Emergency Fund – set up for riders with their injuries – under pressure, with both requiring extensive rehabilitation.
So a team comprising Horse Racing Ireland’s Jane Davis, Michael O’Rourke and Barbara White, Limerick’s Russell Ferris, Bryan Murphy and Patrick O’Callaghan, jockeys Ruby Walsh and Andrew McNamara and Irish Point to Point’s Richard Pugh set about working on a fund raiser and they came up with a one-off racecard to help boost those funds.
The event was specifically designed to capture the Irish public’s imagination and give as much of the industry as possible a chance to support it, with races for hurdlers, Flat horses, hunter-chasers and bumper types, as well as opportunities for jockeys from both codes to ride, which included a Shergar Cup-style challenge pitching British-based riders against their Irish counterparts. Top National Hunt and Flat jockeys from the United Kingdom and Ireland, including Tony McCoy, Richard Johnson, Ruby Walsh, Pat Smullen, Kieren Fallon and Johnny Murtagh all gave up their time for their seriously-injured colleagues.
The entry and declaration fees of almost €20,000, riding fees totalling more than €14,000 and €80,000 in sponsorship money was all donated towards the cause, as well as all the gate money made on the day.
Owners contributed €60,000 in donations, while the money the racecourse receives as part of the media rights deal was all set to go into the fund too.
In addition, the racecourse also held a auction featuring plenty of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, one of which was the opportunity to visit Frankel at stud on Friday. It was held in two parts and the silent auction raised approximately €25,000 from 60 lots ranging from racing yard visits to water-skiing lessons. In the auction after racing, over €250,000 was raised for 32 lots. The top bid of €55,000 came for the set of plain pale grey racing silks which were donated by Horse Racing Ireland and bought by Sue Magnier.
Donations are still coming in and the committee is expected to issue a report in two weeks’ time with a final total.
Michael O’Rourke, who is Horse Racing Ireland’s marketing director and a member of the Charity Raceday Committee said: “The Irish racing community and general public responded with characteristic generosity and enthusiasm to the theme of our campaign – ‘Be There for JT and Jonjo’.” ”Sponsorship and hospitality sold out quickly and we had a job to manage the sheer volume of items donated for the charity auctions.” ”Over 10,000 people came through the gates on a Monday afternoon to demonstrate their support in person.” ”The goodwill from the raceday continues and we are still receiving donations, so the final total will probably exceed €600,000, well beyond our most optimistic forecast.”
As well as the money raised on the day, the committee also have the forthcoming National Hunt season to look forward to and they will be hoping that one particular Irish hurdler will have a successful season.
Richard Pugh one of the organising committee got up to say a few words after the auction and nobody expected what was coming. Pugh revealed that one of Ireland’s leading racehorse owners, Barry Connell, was set to donate all of the prize-money earned by the Dessie Hughes-trained Our Conor this season to the Jockeys Emergency Fund. Connell only purchased Our Conor for an undisclosed fee after the horse had annihilated his rivals in the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival last March and the horse has yet to run for his new owner. The four-year-old is one of the hottest properties in jumps racing and will be competing in all the top hurdle events both in Ireland and the UK.
The gesture was a jaw dropping one and Connell explained to the media that he had been considering how he could help. “I have been thinking about it for a while in terms of what I could do and, as I rode as an amateur for 10 years, I have a fair understanding for the dangers involved” Connell said.
He continued “The Emergency Jockeys Fund was set up 16 years ago after Shane Broderick had his fall. I have been involved with Shane since he started training and he has become a very good friend of mine and I have seen the difference that the Emergency Fund has made to his life and without it Shane would not be training successfully for the last eight or nine years.”
Our Conor will begin his campaign at Naas on Sunday on the flat and Connell explained that one of his reasons behind the gesture was to make sure that the attention around how important the Emergency Fund doesn’t fall away following the raceday at Limerick and it helps awareness continue. “Obviously, Our Conor is a high profile horse and there had been huge publicity in the run-up to the Limerick meeting and I thought it might be a vehicle for it to continue over the course of the season.”
Obviously Barry Connell’s gesture was the headline maker but you have to hand it to the racing community over the Irish Sea, they really have pulled together. God forbid anyone else needs help from the fund but it really has been an amazing effort by all concerned. The Irish are a proud nation but the racing family in Ireland really does have something to be proud of this week.
The Jockey’s Emergency Fund and our very own Injured Jockey’s Fund do so much for our stricken rider’s, both current and retired jockeys. When you see just how well Brian Toomey as come on in the past month or so, it’s nothing more than a miracle really. He is down at Oaksey House at the minute receiving treatment and support from the team down there and he really couldn’t be in a better place.
The Racing Post are running some articles on the IJF this week and when you read about Dai Tegg and a fall that caused him to suffer a brain hemorrhage in 1993, you realise just what a great job the IJF do for those that need them. Twenty years on they are still there, helping Dai to overcome a number of problems that have stemmed from that fateful fall from Rochester at Chepstow.
I have previously highlighted the lack of care received by jockeys in the United States and when you read some of the stories about how the IJF help, you have to feel our brave rider’s are more fortunate than some of their fellow rider’s from over the pond in what help they receive. The JETS (Jockey’s Employment and Training Scheme) is yet another great initiative that is provided for the jockey’s, so that there are option’s available for rider’s when they finally retire from race riding. They provide funding and training so a former jockey can take up or train for a new career, a riding career can be over before a jockey reaches their forties so at least they can re-train and then look to a future out of the saddle.
Regards forthcoming action, there are a few I like over the next couple of day’s. It was nice to put a couple of winner’s your way last week, whilst I know they didn’t return great SP’s they were around 13-8 when betting opened and they duly did the business. One of which, SHYRON goes to the Wolverhampton well again in the 8.00 race on Friday. He ran a remarkable race last weekend when he got left around 9-10 lengths and still won with ease. He should follow up, but for those of you that like a big price alternative, MIGUELA MCGUIRE could well run a big race at rewarding odds. Eric Alston’s Sir Percy filly is definitely one for the notepad as she ran a race full of promise on her last start when staying on over six furlongs. Now she gets further and off a workable mark.
A couple to look out for on the turf at Redcar are TRUE PLEASURE in the 4.15 and YORKSTER’S PRINCE IN THE 5.20. True Pleasure ran a cracker in defeat last week at Ayr, ground conditions are no problem and the same can be said for the drop in trip. Where as a few of her rival’s would like better ground and would be seen at better effect over six furlongs so James Bethell’s charge has a lot going for her. Yorkster’s Prince is one of Marjorie Fife’s string that has been a great credit to her and her ability as a trainer. She has saddled a couple of winner’s this week and this fellow returns to his favourite track. He has five wins from eight visits to the Cleveland track and currently boasts a 100% record there for Marjorie. Natasha Hayes takes the ride and she knows him well as she rides him at home, she has had a couple of winner’s this season and I would expect her to jump him out and make all. If she can get the fractions right she could make a bold bid from the front and at the time of writing he is 25-1 so well worth a few quid each way at what I feel is too big a price!
A win from KOMMANDER KIRKUP in the 2.30 at Redcar will add confidence to David Barron’s RED STARGAZER an hour later over at Haydock. Barron’s gelding won nicely on debut at Ayr on soft ground despite suffering interference in running, yet he still came through travelling hard on the steel before winning going away.
Finally, I like TRAIN HARD in the 8.20 at Dunstall Park on Saturday. With the surface as bad as it is at the minute you definitely don’t want to be held up in behind that horrid kick back and typical of one from Mark Johnston’s this will probably make the running.
As Ron has mentioned over the past six weeks, the ground is nigh on impossible to get a handle on, many horses are entered up in the sales and trainer’s are wanting a win to get a few more quid out of the sales ring so funny results are frequent. I am now looking forward to the all-weather, particularly Southwell (oh how I missed it last winter!) and hope we can unearth a few nuggets over the winter months.
It’s a big shame Arena Racing Company haven’t seen fit to pump some more money into the prize fund over the winter instead of chucking it all into a carrot for the power’s that be to entice them into Good Friday racing. There are a lot of trainer’s and rider’s that won’t get a sniff of that prize money next Easter as the “big boys” will be back from their winter trip’s abroad and the races will be aimed at better class horses instead of the all weather horses that keep Lingfield going all year round. As Jessie J sang “it’s all about the money”, unfortunately the cake isn’t cut fairly so everyone gets a piece.
Have a great weekend.