St Patrick’s Day Feature: Irish Horse Racing Legends


This Saturday is St Patrick’s Day, the day to celebrate all things Irish and we can’t wait, not least because there has been an abundance of Irish talent in flat racing, making an enormous contribution to our sport.

With this in mind, we thought we’d take a look at three of the biggest Irish horse racing legends!

The Horse: Shergar (1978-c.1983)

Shergar is a unique horse in many ways, not least due to the mystery surrounding his disappearance, but we’ll get to that later.

First of all, we’ll talk about his remarkable career. Bred in Ireland in 1978, Shergar went on to take his first win as a two-year old in his first race ever, setting a record at Newbury while he was at it. After that he went on to achieve six wins in his career, taking £436,000 in prize money.

But these weren’t just any wins. Saying they were emphatic would be an understatement, with Shergar regularly crossing the line with up to 12 lengths of clear air between him and his closest rival.

The most spectacular of these was when he won the legendary Epsom Derby by a record 10 lengths. 19-year old jockey, Walter Swinburn was left holding on for dear life, saying after the race that he was “just a passenger on a very good horse”!

However, in 1983 it all gets a bit shady for the racing legend. At around 8:30pm on 8th February, Shergar’s groom, James Fitzgerald, was forced at gunpoint by men in balaclavas and Garda uniforms to load Shergar into a horse trailer before it disappeared into the night.

Attempted ransom negotiations followed and subsequently failed and the gang made their final call four days later, never to be heard from again.

Despite numerous theories on the identity of the thieves and the motive for the crime, no-one has ever been brought to justice and what became of Shergar remains a mystery.

This mysterious end only serves to reinforce Shergar’s position as one of the most legendary horses of all time.

The Trainer: Vincent O’Brien (1917-2009)

When it comes to trainers, Vincent O’Brien is the obvious choice. His legendary reputation is well-founded and completely deserved.

His flat facing career began when he set up the now legendary Ballydoyle Stables in 1955, however this was only after an already extremely fruitful National Hunt career where he took three consecutive Grand National wins with three different horses in 1953, 1954 and 1955!

His transition to the flat was a smooth one. O’Brien took to the new form of racing brilliantly and by 1958 he had already taken wins in the Irish Derby, St Leger and Arc.

His successes kept on rolling in right the way through to his retirement in 1994 and in the meantime he also established the now renowned Coolmore Stud breeding operation.

O’Brien’s achievements were officially recognised when he was voted Greatest Trainer of the 20th Century in both flat racing AND national hunt! And on top of that he was voted the Greatest Figure in the History of Horseracing in a poll by The Racing Post.

And his legacy lives on, with Ballydoyle Stables continuing to produce legendary winners, not to mention serving as a home another legendary trainer that might even go one better… the mighty Aidan O’Brien (no relation).

The Jockey: Pat Eddery (1952-2015)

Well, what can we say? To be honest, it’s best just to let Pat Eddery’s stats speak for themselves: Three-time Derby winner, 11-time British Champion Jockey, record holder for most title championships and wins in The Arc, and rider of 4,632 flat winners.

As you can see, although he may not have been the most graceful of jockeys with his so-called ‘bump-bump’ riding style, the Newbridge Native’s career speaks for itself. In fact it is so good that it’s easy to forget that he won the 2,000 Guineas three times, the Epsom Oaks three times and the St. Leger Stakes four times! He was also successful outside Europe with major wins at the Japan Cup, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Arlington Million, Canadian International Stakes and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

However maybe the most legendary thing about him was his dedication and single-minded attitude to the sport. We’ll leave you with this quote from the late, great legend himself:

“That’s all part of the game, going to the Folkestones and the smaller tracks, because it’s not Royal Ascot every day. You’ve got to be out there every day working those muscles … There may be more money for a Derby than a seller but that doesn’t make you try any harder. A winner is a winner.”

Well said, Pat, very well said.

Happy St Patrick’s Day everyone!

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