It's been a great spring for Irish horseracing, the record 19 wins at the Cheltenham Festival having been followed within a matter of weeks by Aidan O'Brien's double in the Newmarket Guineas.
But, believe it or not, there is a branch of the sport in which Britain is in the ascendancy while Ireland seems in dangerous decline, and this is pony racing, an unheralded but vital part of racing's grassroots and an excellent source of hard-working, talented riders.
Listening to people talk about the storied history of pony racing in Ireland, one would imagine it would be secure forever. "Practically every top jockey in the country has gone through pony racing at one stage or another," I was told by Denis Egan, The Turf Club's chief executive. But neither The Turf Club nor any other authority has responsibility for nurturing the health of pony racing, which is falling on hard times with a consequent loss of fixtures and equine talent.
Meantime, the sport, having long been popular in other European countries, is finally taking hold in Britain, where it was all but unknown 15 years ago. "I can't speak highly enough about it and the people who organize it," says Paul Nicholls, the 10-times champion jumps trainer, who regrets that no such introduction to jockeyship was available when he was a lad.
His daughter, Megan, and his nephew, Harry Derham, are among a swelling list of British jockeys who cut their teeth in pony racing. Others include Sam Twiston-Davies, Sean Bowen, Lizzie Kelly, Tom Marquand, and Hollie Doyle. The Pony Racing Authority (PRA) reckons that more than 100 of its graduates now hold a jockey’s license of some kind.
TO READ MORE OF THIS ARTICLE - CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE!