Ireland is the land of the horse, known throughout the world as a centre of excellence for breeding, horse training and racing thoroughbred horses. At the centre of Ireland’s racing tradition lies Kildare, the thoroughbred county and the heart of that living tradition is here - the Curragh, this 5000 acre plain, one of Europe’s oldest natural grasslands is perfectly designed by time and the hand of man for one of nature’s most beautiful sights, the running horse.
Tales of horses running on the Curragh plains take us beyond recorded history to the myths and legends of old Ireland which tell of Fin Maccool and his warriors, the Fiona, emerging from the fortress on the hill of Ireland to race their horses across these plains. The tradition of horses preparing for war on these plains continued up tillto modern times with horses and men departing the Curragh for the Kryonian wars and the first world wars. By the 17th century, Dublin came to the Curragh, not for war but for sport. As the gentry, gathered on the plains for hunting with hounds and falcons and above all challenging each other to match races the largest day they established on the Curragh formed the basis of the great training centres we have today. By the late 18th century the turf club was established in Kildare to formalize the rules of racing and to publish a calendar with details of races run in Ireland and every sporting intelligence. Thomas Connelly, the father of the turf club and Dennis Bose Daily together vied for dominance of Irish racing for over 50 years. Daily’s blood stock breeding activities led to Bird Catcher, a handsome colt who was one of the most brilliant on the Curragh and whose descendants have made in one of the greatest series in racing history.
Thus, the foundations were laid for the success story that is today, Irish Racing. From the 18th century looking you can fast forward to the 21st and find another Irish based sire Saddler’s Wells dominating the international thoroughbred breeding world declared Champion Sire a record 14 times. The nature of Irish breeding market is one of the most successful in the world and Ireland is increasingly the destination of choice for some of the leading international breeders. Modern Irish racing took shape with the establishment of the Irish Derby in 1866, the first and greatest of the Curragh classic races. The Irish Oaks, the Irish St. Ledger and the Irish Two Thousand and One Thousand Guineas followed after. Commercial sponsorship of the Derby firstly by the Irish Sweeps and then by the Butterwiser Budweiser put the race firmly in the international limelight and the world’s best horses have ever since contested this jewel in the crown of Irish racing. Likewise on the jumping scene, Irish distillers generous endowment of the Irish Ground National showcased Irish steeplechasingsteeple chasing. Tom Draper, the outstanding national hunt trainer of his era, achieved an extraordinary monopoly of the Irish Ground National winning at a remarkable seven years in succession.
Arkle, winner of three successive gold cups was clearly his greatest performer. Indeed such was the wealth of talent at Tom’s disposal that Flying Bolt, Arkle’s brilliant understudy and near equal is almost forgotten today. One name bestrides the racing history of both racing colts like a Colossus, Vincent O’Brian of the triple crown with the Nijinsky, a feat not matched since. In an exceptional career O’Brian would claim six cups on Derby’s, three arks, three successive antry ground nationals, three champion hurdles and four Cheltenham gold cups. And Ireland’s remarkable record in the gold cup continues to the present day. Vincent O’Brian successor in BallydoyleBalleydol bears the same name but is no relation other than unshared genius with the racehorses. Aden O’Brian has rewritten the records so often that any attempt to capture his achievements on the printed page would ensure that piece became outdated overnight. It would take an epic move to cover the famous wins of Irish flat and national hunt horses in the 20th and early 21st century. The story is still being written and new stars of the turf appear every year. The sport itself is changing rapidly but one constant remains - the passion for racing among the Irish people and our natural affinity for the horse as breeders, trainers, jockeys, grooms and in a myriad of other supporting roles. The celticCeltic warriors of the Fiona no longer race across the plains but the celticCeltic tigers progeny still come to match the best against the best and while doing so have plenty of fun. Irish racing festivals have become the major social and sporting occasions of Irish life in every season of the year and maintaining a sporting tradition that spans the centuries, Irish jockeys, trainers and horses continue to win the world over.