Horse Racing

Lauding the Best in the Business on a Night of Sheer Emotion 


KILLENARD, Ireland – By daybreak on Monday the last few revellers were leaving the bar at The Heritage while those – admittedly few – of a more disciplined nature started to consider breakfast. 

Heads were hurting but hearts were still soaring after an evening celebrating all that is great about the Irish bloodstock industry. And it was a truly great night, but one which naturally started on a sombre note as the gathered guests bowed their heads in a few moments of silence to reflect on the passing of the ITBA chief executive Una Tormey last month at the age of only 41.

It wasn’t the only part of the evening to bring a lump to the throat. The Next Generation Award was presented a little later on to Amy Marnane, who is the embodiment of unbridled enthusiasm, just like her dad, Con. He was there of course, eyes welling with pride, along with Amy’s sister Olivia and members of the extended Marnane family. The one absentee was Con’s wife Theresa, who died in December and, like Tormey, is much missed by her many friends in the business and beyond. 

By 2am in the hotel bar, Con and Amy were taking turns on the microphone, and if her endeavours in the bloodstock world ever fail her (they won’t) Amy could easily fall back on a career as a singer. It was a night of celebration, and people who know Con Marnane even only in passing, will realise that he takes that approach to life on most days. The recent months will surely have been tough on the family without Theresa in their midst, but there is no better way to honour her memory than by continuing to live life to the full. On Sunday night she would have been especially proud of her eldest daughter, who is a shining example to all young people coming into this industry.

“She was a sponge to soak up information. By five or six she knew every horse by their sire and dam,” said Con in the tribute video to Amy before adding with a grin, “I’m not really surprised…She learnt from the best.”

The best was what Sunday night was all about. From the top jumps prospects, many of whom will return to the Cheltenham Festival in a fortnight’s time, to the potential breed-shapers of the future on the Flat, Ireland’s equine stars and the people who made them were duly celebrated. 

“We are delighted to have Minister Pippa Hackett join us again for this year’s awards and we thank her and her government colleagues for their continued support,” said ITBA Chairman Cathy Grassick in her opening address. 

“We are honoured tonight to recognise the outstanding achievement of Irish-bred horses, both Flat and National Hunt, during 2023. This is our opportunity to celebrate their outstanding successes in a year which Irish thoroughbred talent was on display to a global audience once more. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge those who have made a lifelong contribution to Irish thoroughbred breeding and our people awards are well deserved and a testament to the wonderful people we have working in our industry.”

Willie Austin, who will forever be associated with the brilliant, prolific jumper Danoli (Ire), claimed the Small Breeder Award for the year in which Danoli’s relative Blazing Khal (Ire) heaped more glory on the family with victory in the G2 Boyne Hurdle.

We will hear more from David Bowe in tomorrow’s edition of the TDN after the Littleton Stud manager was given the Wild Geese Award, which is annually handed out to an Irishman or woman who has forged a successful career in the bloodstock industry beyond Ireland’s shores. 

Bill Dwan summed up what many people feel about Bowe when he said, “He’s an absolute gentleman. I don’t know anyone in the business who has a bad word to say about him. It’s not ever about David; it’s about the horses, it’s about Jeff [Smith, Littleton Stud owner].”

Stitch-up of the year goes to the ITBA’s awards organising committee, who managed to pull the wool over Leo Powell’s eyes. For many years Powell, the former editor of the Irish Field, has been the compere on awards night. This year he was told that the recipient of the Special Contribution award had been kept top secret, and indeed it had been, to the degree that Powell had no idea that the award was coming his way until he was hijacked on stage, expecting to read out someone else’s name. 

The warmth of feeling for Powell within the racing and breeding industry was summed up beautifully by Jacqueline Norris in another of the heartwarming videos that the ITBA team does so well. “He’s incredibly interested in the people that make up this business. He’s kind, he’s considerate, he thinks about people,” she said. “Leo Powell is pure class.”

There was also widespread approval for this year’s inductees to the ITBA Hall of Fame. Referred to regularly as a “power couple”, the husband-and-wife team behind Tinnakill House, Dermot Cantillon and Meta Osborne, are the worthy new names on that illustrious roll of honour, which also includes Meta’s late father, John Osborne.

Their great friend Alan Byrne paid tribute to the couple, with plenty of leg-pulling in his humorous address. He said, “What a team, what a partnership: in business and in life. I’m in awe of what they do, and also the skills they bring to their partnership: expertise in pedigrees, conformation judgement, strategic thinking, commercial nous, rigour and an unwavering commitment to hard work – and, look, Dermot brings something to the partnership as well.

“Above all, I would say that Dermot is an enthusiast. With Dermot, the glass isn’t just half full, there’s about to be so much liquid in evidence that more glasses need to be bought as quickly as possible. He loves the life and he loves the game.”

In almost 20 years at Tinnakill House, the couple has bred four Group 1 winners in Casamento (Ire), Alexander Goldrun (Ire), Red Evie (Ire) and, most recently, State Of Rest (Ire).

Byrne also highlighted the time and devotion they have committed to the industry above and beyond their own farm and in many roles, including Cantillon’s chairmanship of Naas racecourse and Osborne’s stint as senior steward of the Turf Club, as well as their encouragement of young people starting off in the business. 

“They only ever want the best for the Thoroughbred industry in Ireland,” added John P Byrne.

As Leo Powell conducted an interview on stage with the ‘wild goose’ David Bowe, who was clearly choked with emotion at being honoured by his peers and countrymen, he asked Bowe for one parting piece of advice for young folk keen on getting involved in the bloodstock business. 

“Immerse yourself in it, get involved in it and stick with it,” offered Bowe.

They are words that can just as well apply to racing and breeding, or indeed the ITBA Awards evening. Don’t go there thinking that you will be able to get an early night. Roll with the emotion, sing, dance and enjoy everything that is worth celebrating about this wonderful life. 

ITBA National Breeding & Racing Awards Winners

Chaser of the Year 2023
Shishkin, Breeder: CJ & EB Bennett

Hurdler of the Year 2023
Marine Nationale, Breeder: JB Bloodstock   

National Hunt Race Mare 2023
Marie’s Rock, Breeder: Dan Breen

Young National Hunt Horse 2023
A Dream To Share, Breeder: Brucetown Farms

Small Breeder 2023
William Austin 

Two-year-old Filly of the Year 2023
Porta Fortuna, Breeder: Whisperview Trading Ltd

Two-year-old Colt of the Year 2023
Henry Longfellow, Breeder:  Coolmore 

Three-year-old Filly of the Year 2023
Mawj, Breeder: Godolphin 

Three-year-old Colt of the Year 2023
Auguste Rodin, Breeder:  Coolmore

Older Horse 2023
Mostahdaf, Breeder: Shadwell Estate 

Next Generation Award 2023
Amy Marnane 

Wild Geese Award 2023
David Bowe

Contribution to the Industry 2023
Leo Powell

Hall of Fame 2023
Dermot Cantillon and Meta Osborne 

 

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