Horse Racing

Perhaps It Is Time We Called Horse Racing Ireland's National Sport

Perhaps It Is Time We Called Horse Racing Ireland's National Sport

Being an Irish sports fan is a complicated existence. As a sporting nation, Ireland punches well above its weight. We've produced world-class boxers, golfers, footballers and rugby players but constant success at a world level is seriously challenging for a tiny nation.

It's been said that Irish sports fans love to jump on a bandwagon, and maybe that reflects a desire for global success that we're not really enjoying in sport. In rugby, we have never made it beyond the quarter-finals of the World Cup. We've only qualified for the World Cup three times and although the Irish football team provided us with so many brilliant memories this summer, the reality is that we are far away from competing with the giants of European football and winning the Euros.

The bottom line is this: despite producing so many brilliant athletes, success on a global level is very, very difficult for such a small country.

Validation at the world's elite level will always be a challenge for Ireland's teams and sportspeople. But if success is the standard upon which we judge all the things, there is one domestic sport that deserves more plaudits. Right in front of our eyes is a sport where we literally dominate the world over.

More than boxing or football or rugby, horse racing - and in particular flat racing - is arguably the only sport with massive multinational interest that Ireland can consider itself a world leader in. Ireland's greatness at racing was on display for the world last weekend when Longines Irish Champion Weekend was held at Leopardstown and the Curragh.

This immense weekend of racing provided further evidence to the world of Ireland's unique skill at breeding, training and racing. All conversations about Irish success in racing start and end with the rampaging success of Aidan O'Brien's Ballydoyle stable. O'Brien is the master of flat racing in Ireland and Britain.

But it's not just Ballydoyle. There's also Dermot Weld's titanic achievements in racing - and they stretch far beyond the Galway Races. He's still the only European trainer to bring a horse to America and win a leg of the prestigious Triple Crown. He's done it in Melbourne, with two memorable wins in Australia's most famous race. This year, he achieved something spectacular with Harzand, winning the Irish Derby and the Epsom Derby. Weld is like so many famous Irish sports characters - daring and willing to take a chance.

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But the greatness of Irish flat racing is not just about winning. Despite being heavily competitive, Irish racing is a tight-knit community, even at the very top. Consider Dermot Weld's statements on the support he got from his arch rivals after the death of his mother in 2014:

Competition is very strong because we've a limited pool of races, so it's a very tough, hard competition. But behind the competition, there is great friendship and support among all the trainers. To typify it, my late mother died last year and the support that I got from my fellow trainers... I was shocked.

Two little instances, Aidan O'Brien, my main opposition, and his entire family were present at my mother's mass and then afterwards and then Jim and Jackie Bolger were the last two people to leave my that night to make sure I was okay. So maybe that gives you an idea of the support I got from my two main opposition... that when I was at my weakest and my lowest at the loss of my dear mother, they were there for me.

It's hard to imagine Pep Guardiola attending the wedding of Jose Mourinho but here's a prime example of the thing that makes Irish horseracing so unique in world sport. It is extremely competitive at the top, but there's an intimacy and closeness amongst the top trainers that is quintessentially Irish.

Longines Irish Champions Weekend is one of three iconic race meetings in Europe this autumn. Before the weekend of the Arc in France, and before Ascot, Irish race fans were given an opportunity to witness the greatness of Irish horseracing firsthand. One of the marquee weekends of European flat racing took place on our own turf, and our own horses, trainers and jockeys win races.

Winning feels good. When O'Brien and Weld and Bolger win the big races, they'll also be representing the best of what Irish sport can be.

Donny Mahoney

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