Photo Credit: Maxwells/Irish Government Pool

(HORSES/IRELAND) While Queen Elizabeth II is the face of England, the race horse symbolizes the pride of Ireland. Naturally, a horse greeted the Queen upon her arrival at Dublin. In addition to living with her ten beloved corgis, the Queen keeps some of the finest Irish race horses.

However, these race horses, the pride of Ireland, are increasingly being sold to foreigners and taken from the Emerald Isle. The loss of these athletic animals will cripple the already strained Irish economy as horse racing employs many Irish workers. So, can selling Irish stallions be considered an act of treason—especially to British owners?— Global Animal


The Irish Times, Eileen Battersby

Ireland extended a sophisticated welcome to Queen Elizabeth II and she in turn did more good for the international reputation of this State than a jet-load – or even a bus-load – of Irish politicians bound for the White House with a bumper basket of shamrock. But Her Majesty was not alone; she received wonderful support from Ireland’s finest ambassador, the horse.

It is true that the emphasis on the thoroughbred may incite objections about elitism. But then, the Irish horses are world class: it’s not their fault. The Queen is an authority on thoroughbred bloodlines, has bred champions and currently has mares in foal to Galileo and to Fastnet – both standing at Coolmore in Co Tipperary – but she is interested in all horses. Her daughter, Princess Anne competed in the 1976 Olympics on the British three day eventing team and her daughter, the Queen’s granddaughter, Zara, became world champion, also as an eventer. Both Princess Anne and Zara Philips have been European champions at three day eventing.

Ireland would seem a country brilliantly placed to produce a world-class three day event team but at present it seems unlikely that an eventing team will be going to the London Olympics. For every critic who regards horses as the playthings of snobs, there are many more, particularly among Irish people, who feel an emotional affinity with the horse, second only to the dog as man’s best friend. In hard economic terms, the Irish horse industry, from racing yards to sport horses, Connemara ponies, professional and amateur show jumpers to leisure riding, is a major employer, providing about 26,000 jobs. Coolmore alone generates about €118 million a year, much of this money coming into Ireland from foreign owners and breeders who bring their mares here.

It all sounds highly lucrative and yes, Coolmore, for all its history and exciting legacy, is a successful commercial enterprise. But it is odd that as Christy Grassick of Coolmore, remarks, “The racing industry in Ireland is the only one in the world which does not receive any direct levy from the bookmakers who rely upon racing for the bulk of their business.”

Irish racing, itself employing 22,000, must also contend with very low prize money. It is unsettling to realise that the superb breeding programme run at Coolmore, which yesterday impressed Queen Elizabeth so much, is heavily dependent on foreign owners – owners such as her. Racing urgently requires a levy from betting. But Irish horses in general should be celebrated by every citizen. The Government should ensure that the top stallions are not taken out of Ireland to stand elsewhere. Too many jobs, directly and indirectly, depend on the Irish horse. But there is an even more serious dimension. In all other racing countries income from gambling is the main source of revenue for racing and thus directly funds prize money and puts money back into racing. This does not happen in Ireland.

Yet Irish bloodstock is a world leader.

How did happen? Aside from the climate which produces ideal conditions for breeding horses, Ireland’s most remarkable natural resource, the Irish have always been good amateur breeders. But racing has sired professional experts committed to the thoroughbred. Ireland also produces intuitive racing trainers and top class jockeys. Central to all of this is tradition which creates the continuity that in time becomes history. During the past few weeks conversations have revolved around the death of Sadler’s Wells, the great stallion; people who never saw him race have being speaking about him as if he were a family member.

When Vincent O’Brien was sent to Canada to assess a young horse for the millionaire Charles Englegard, he spotted another colt. That horse, as history knows, would become Nijinsky. He won 11 of his 13 races including the English Triple Crown. His second last race, the Prix de l’Arc at Longchamps, ended in a narrow defeat and his final race saw Nijinsky, totally distracted, his mind elsewhere.

On retiring to stud at Claiborne, he became a sire. He was a magnificent, big horse and partnered by Lester Piggott, Nijinsky remains one of racing’s most romantic legends. But how about his father?

Northern Dancer, winner of 14 of his 18 races, was only six years old when Nijinsky was foaled; he was 20 when another famous son, Sadler’s Wells, came into the world. Northern Dancer was small and tough; he lived to be 29 and died in 1990. Mourned in Canada and throughout the world, he is buried at Windfields Farm in Ontario, where he had been foaled. The admittedly temperamental Nijinsky survived his legendary sire by only two years, dying at the age of 25, and now rests at Claiborne, Kentucky, along with another genius, Secretariat.

Because of Nijinsky, Vincent O’Brien went in pursuit of Northern Dancer and a bloodline that goes back to his grandsire, Native Dancer. Northern Dancer won the Kentucky Derby 1964 and set a track record that stood until Secretariat bettered it in 1973. Next Friday, May 27th, marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of Northern Dancer, courageous race horse, prolific sire and the magician whose tenacity continues to shape champions.

See a Gallery of Royal Pets of the Ages