On Friday December 17th, the curtain came down on racing at Dundalk for another year, one that was very rewarding despite problems presented by the ongoing fight against Covid-19.
Many restrictions and protocols were again placed upon the racing industry – and the rest of the country, of course – but were met, as ever, with stoicism, diligence and success.
Here’s hoping for progress in the ongoing battle in 2022, a year that will see a minimum of 43 fixtures taking place at the Stadium.
Friday again produced some exciting racing on a night when Joseph O’Brien was crowned champion trainer at Dundalk for the fourth-successive year. During that time, he has sent out 117 winners at Dundalk. The latest of them came on Friday when Almanera, ridden by Mikey Sheehy, landed the Irish Stallion Farms EBF-sponsored seven-furlong maiden.
Almanera was Joseph’s 27th winner at Dundalk this year. He is part-owned by the Annus Mirabilis Syndicate, which has now had a remarkable 25 winners at Dundalk in the last six years.
Securing the champion jockey title at Dundalk for the first time was Chris Hayes, whose superb tally of 32 winners this year ensured he finished two ahead of three-time Dundalk champ, Colin Keane, in what was a hard-fought and exciting battle.
Both championships are sponsored by Crowne Plaza Hotel Dundalk, and we thank them for their longstanding, generous and ongoing support. Joseph and Chris on the night also each will receive a donation in their name to their chosen charity.
Mention also needs to be made of leading owner James McAuley, who had 14 horses carry his colours to victory at Dundalk in 2021, most of which he also trained.
Mention too must be made of Jake Coen, who rode a double on Friday’s card on Dalvey, for James McAuley, and Arctic Blaze, for John McConnell. He is one of a number of apprentice riders seen at Dundalk this year who look as though they have very bright futures.
Dundalk staged four Listed races and two Group 3 races during the year, which included the Al Basti Equiworld, Dubai, Pat Smullen Mercury Stakes, in which the late, great nine-time champion jockey of Ireland was fondly remembered.
It was won by Andy Oliver’s promising young sprinter, The Highway Rat, who was one of just three horses to record four wins at Dundalk this year, the others, both owned and trained by James McAuley, being Meishar and Sister Lola, although the last-named’s first two wins at Dundalk this year came when she was with Eddie Lynam.
The other Group 3 race, the Al Basti Equiworld, Dubai, Diamond Stakes, went the way of Bear Story, who is trained by Michael Halford. Outright champion trainer at Dundalk every year between 2012 and 2017, and joint-winner in 2011 with Eddie Lynam, Michael had another good year at Dundalk with 18 winners, a total bettered only by Joseph O’Brien and Ger Lyons, whose 19 victories were achieved at an impressive strike-rate of 23%.
It was, once again, a year filled with exciting and high-class racing, great stories, fine achievements and lasting memories. We hope for more of the same in 2022.
With this in mind, Dundalk’s first meetings of next year are set for Wednesday 5th January (first race, 2:45pm) and Friday 7th January (first race, 4:45pm). Both meetings will start 30 minutes earlier than scheduled if the currently seven-race fixtures become eight-race cards. Racing TV features all of Dundalk racing weekly.
We very much look forward to seeing you in 2022 and thank you sincerely for your custom and support during 2021. Until then, our very best wishes for a happy, safe and peaceful Christmas, and every good wish to you for 2022.
By Leo Powell