ITBA Awards: Celebrating Ireland’s Best

KILLENARD, Ireland–The trick to living a mostly happy life is to spend as much time as possible doing what you love. Simple, right?

That’s not to say that people in the bloodstock industry don’t work incredibly hard. There is no real let-up in the work either, with almost wall-to-wall sales these days, foals on the way, mares to be covered, mud to be scraped off almost everything and, some mornings, ice to be broken on water troughs and buckets. 

But it’s a wonderful life nonetheless, and every now and then moments can be found for for a collective letting down of hair and slapping on of glad rags to celebrate those whose contributions have been particularly noteworthy over the previous year. 

The best of these events in Europe by a country mile is the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association’s National Breeding and Racing Awards. For a truly immersive experience, and in an effort to make it look like I wasn’t turning up merely for the Champagne and dancing, the weekend escape from Newmarket to Ireland was augmented by trips to visit two significant breeding operations in the country’s heartland. One of those has already featured significantly at the ITBA Awards over many years and another will undoubtedly do so in the future, and you can read more about Tally-Ho Stud and Al Shira’aa Farms in the TDN in the coming week.

I will admit to some trepidation ahead of my visit to the O’Callaghan family at Tally-Ho. Their incredible success is matched by their collective disinclination to be interviewed, so when you turn up at someone’s house at lunchtime knowing that your arrival brings about as much joy to your hosts as a trip to the dentist for root canal treatment then it is nigh on impossible not to spend most of the time apologising for your presence. As it transpired, the warm welcome from Disney the black Labrador was extended heartily by Tony, Anne, Roger and Henry. Tally-Ho’s seven stallions paraded without fuss, their laidback demeanours undoubtedly contributing to the success of the offspring of those far along enough in their careers.

“Temperament is everything,” declared Tony O’Callaghan over lunch, and it is hard to disagree with a man whose farm churns out smart winners with metronomic regularity. 

This time last year, the achievements of Tony and Anne O’Callaghan were deservedly recognised by their induction into the ITBA Hall of Fame. A Tally-Ho connection continued through Saturday’s awards when the hugely popular Tom Lacy was recognised as Small Breeder of the Year for Persian Force (Ire). Not only is the G2 July S. winner and dual Group 1 runner-up a son of Mehmas (Ire) but he has joined his father on the roster at the O’Callaghans’ farm this year. They know him well, having pinhooked him as a foal from the Lacy family. 

Tom Lacy was presented with his award by John O’Connor of Ballylinch Stud, to whom Lacy had sold his homebred Ingabelle (GB) (Taufan), who went on to become an important foundation mare at Ballylinch. Lacy’s achievements extend well beyond his success as a breeder, however. In a marvellous video compilation encapsulating the 87-year-old’s career in racing we saw grainy black-and-white footage of his days in the saddle. Not many people can boats of riding against the great Arkle (Ire) and Flyingbolt (GB), not that boastfulness is a term one would use to describe the hard-working Lacy.

After his race-riding days, he went on to carve a successful career as a trainer, launching the career of no less a talent than the much-missed Pat Smullen, who rode for him in his early days, as did Lacy’s sons Barry and Tony, both of whom present on Saturday to support their father. 

Tony and his wife Cathy had made the trip from Kentucky, as had the recipients of arguably the most popular award of the evening, the Wild Geese Award, which recognises the contribution of Irishmen and women in the racing and breeding industry around the world. It is safe to say that the ITBA will not run out of potential recipients, for the Irish influence runs deep, particularly in Kentucky, where David and Ann Hanley have been based since leaving Ireland. 

Like Tom Lacy, David Hanley was previously a successful trainer before his move, with the Grade I winner Golden Apples (Ire) (Pivotal {GB}) among his many achievements as both trainer and breeder (with James Egan of Corduff Stud).

Now general manager of WinStar Farm, he was described in the video marking the award by Mike Ryan as, “The best judge of a horse that I have ever been around.”

Ann Hanley is as beloved as her husband and, since being diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease 16 years ago, has raised more than $4 million in vital research funding for the debilitating condition as well as being a tower of support to her many friends and colleagues in the breeding industry. The Hanleys’ award was jointly deserved and universally approved by those in attendance, and surely by many more tuning in via the livestream.

This year’s inductee into the ITBA Hall of Fame was William Flood, master of Boardsmill Stud and a great servant to Irish National Hunt breeding.

Flood’s award was warmly greeted by a standing ovation from the 300-plus guests at The Heritage hotel on a night when emotions ran high. Earlier in the proceedings, the award for the Novice Hurdler of the Year, Sir Gerhard (Ire) (Jeremy), had ben collected by Joe and Sharon Fitzpatrick. Their son Jonathan, who bred the eight-year-old at the family’s Keatingstown House Stud, died in a car crash in 2017 at the age of just 23, several years before Sir Gerhard became so successful in the colours of Cheveley Park Stud. Beaten only twice in his ten races to date, the gelding is a glorious, galloping reminder of the nascent talent of the young Fitzpatrick, a graduate of the Irish National Stud course who had also worked at Coolmore and Ballylinch. 

Two important anniversaries took place in 2022. The Aga Khan Studs celebrated its centenary while the Haefner family’s Moyglare Stud marked its 60th year in the breeding industry. Both these milestones went hand-in-hand with continued excellence on the track for graduates of the respective operations. 

Princess Zahra Aga Khan and her mother Princess Salima were both in attendance to collect the Two-Year-Old Filly of the Year Award for the exciting Classic prospect Tahiyra (Ire) (Siyouni {Fr}).

“It was an amazing year, and I spent most of the year thinking about my grandfather and great grandfather,” said Princess Zahra, reflecting on the 2022 season which also saw Vadeni (Fr) (Churchill {Ire}) win the G1 Prix du Jockey Club and G1 Eclipse S. “I think it was incredible that it happened last year. We are going into year 101 with such a lovely range of hopes.”

Eva-Maria Bucher-Haefner, who took over the running of Moyglare Stud from her late father Walter, was the recipient of two awards on the evening, for the Three-Year-old Filly of the Year, the Irish 1,000 Guineas winner Homeless Songs (Ire) (Frankel {GB}), and the Stayer of the Year, Kyprios (Ire) (Galileo {Ire}), whom she races in partnership with Coolmore. It has been noted before but it bears repeating that Kyprios’s celebrated dam, Polished Gem (Ire) (Danehill), bore ten foals for ten winners, eight of whom won black-type races, including the Group 1 winners Free Eagle (Ire) (High Chaparral {Ire}), Kyprios, and his full-sister Search For A Song (Ire).

Ben Sangster was back at The Heritage to claim an award for the second year running as the breeder of Luxembourg (Ire) (Camelot {Ire}), who was named Three-Year-Old Colt of the Year, while Timmy Hyde of Camas Park Stud, flanked by his wife Trish and daughters Wendy and Valerie, collected the trophy for Two-Year-Old Colt of the Year, Little Big Bear (Ire) (No Nay Never). The Aidan O’Brien trainee was bred by Hyde along with his son, Tim, of Summerhill.

From budding talent to esteemed veterans of the sport, the ITBA Awards reward the passion, dedication and determination of the participants of what remains a vital industry in Ireland. The huge importance of Thoroughbred breeding to the Irish economy and the country’s reputation of a global forerunner in horseracing was reflected by the fact that three Irish government ministers attended the ceremony, with Charlie McConalogue, Minster for Agriculture, on hand to present William Flood with his Hall of Fame Award alongside ITBA chair Cathy Grassick. 

That connection to the country’s seat 0f power is undoubtedly one of the reasons that the Irish racing and breeding industry continues to thrive and remains a shining example to other nations attempting to emulate its success. 


The ITBA National Breeding and Racing Awards 2022

Next Generation Award: Micheal Conaghan

Young National Hunt Horse: Facile Vega
Bred by Hammer & Trowel Syndicate

Novice Hurdler of the Year: Sir Gerhard
Bred by Keatingstown Bloodstock

Novice Chaser of the Year: Bob Olinger
Bred by Kenneth Parkhill

Hurdler of the Year: Flooring Porter
Bred by Sean Murphy

Chaser of the Year: Shishkin
Bred by CJ & EB Barnett

Small Breeder of the Year: Tom Lacy

Two-Year-Old Filly of the Year: Tahiyra
Bred by HH The Aga Khan’s Studs

Two-Year-Old Colt of the Year: Little Big Bear
Bred by Camas Park Stud & Summerhill

Three-Year-Old Filly of the Year: Homeless Songs
Bred by Moyglare Stud Farm

Three-Year-Old Colt of the Year: Luxembourg
Bred by B V Sangster

Stayer of the Year: Kyprios
Bred by Moyglare Stud Farm

Wild Geese Award: David and Ann Hanley

Hall of Fame: William Flood

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