It was no surprise when Ireland's Horse of the Year was announced Dec. 14 at the annual Irish Horse Racing Awards in the Leopardstown Pavilion, Dublin. Sea The Stars, whose six group I victories in 2009 dominated European racing, was a unanimous selection as Ireland’s Horse of the Year and followed his previous award as Cartier Horse of the Year for all of Europe.
A homebred trained by John Oxx for the Tsui family, Sea The Stars was undefeated in six starts in 2009, all in group I races. His impressive season included victories in the Epsom Derby (Eng-I), Two Thousand Guineas (Eng-I), and Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) as he became the first horse to complete that sweep. Oxx won the Flat Award for the achievements of Sea The Stars and also with Alandi in 2009.
In other awards, trainer Willie Mullins won the National Hunt Award for the first time after having been nominated each year but consistently losing out to jockey Ruby Walsh.
The Outstanding Achievement Award was presented to Kevin Prendergast and Derek O’ Connor claimed the Point to Point Award for his third time.
Horse Racing Ireland also presented jockey Michael Kinane with the Contribution to the Industry Award. Kinane retired recently at age 50. The 2009 Champion Flat Jockey Johnny Murtagh was rewarded for winning the 2009 Flat Championship.
"Despite the gloomy economic backdrop, 2009 was an outstanding year for Irish racing," Brian Kavanagh, chief executive of Horse Racing Ireland said in a release. "Our flat horses dominated the major races throughout Europe, and we saw a once in a life time champion in Sea The Stars. Our national hunt horses enjoyed great success at home and abroad and, as we look towards 2010, it is very pleasing to see that success continue in the major national hunt races in recent weeks. We can reflect also with great pride on the fact that according to official rankings three of the top four flat horses in the world in 2009 were Irish. This is an industry in which Ireland is a genuine world leader and, given appropriate funding structures, that situation can be further enhanced in 2010."
Irish champions for 2009, with nominees in parenthesis:
Horse of the Year – Sea The Stars (Mastercraftsman, Mikael D’Haguenet, Notre Pere, Rip Van Winkle, Yeats)
National Hunt – Willie Mullins (Jim Dreaper, Barry Geraghty, Ruby Walsh)
Flat – John Oxx (Michael Kinane, Johnny Murtagh, Aidan O’ Brien)
Outstanding Achievement -- Kevin Prendergast (Gary Carroll, Colm McBratney, Patrick Mullins, Paul Townend, David Wachman)
Point-To-Point – Derek O’ Connor (Robert Tyner, M.J. "Mikey" O’ Connor, Jamie Codd)
Contribution to the Industry -- Michael Kinane (Dave Fox, Galway Race Committee, Con Collins and Kevin Prendergast)