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Winners alright! 10 horses that grabbed the headlines in 2014

2014 was another year in which racing fans gained some new favourites and said goodbye to some old ones.

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Jezki

THE CHELTENHAM CHAMPION Hurdle was billed as a showdown between the ageing Irish champ Hurricane Fly and Britain’s young pretenders My Tent Or Yours and The New One.

But it was another of the Irish team who slipped in under the radar to steal the two-mile crown as Barry Geraghty and Jezki got up to win by a neck in the colours of JP McManus and deliver a first Champion Hurdle for trainer Jessica Harrington.

The six-year-old franked the form with a convincing win over Hurricane Fly at Punchestown in May but the veteran hurdler turned the tables in the Morgiana Hurdle in November, setting these two up for another ding-dong season.

Faugheen

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

If you thought that Faugheen got us talking in 2014, wait until you see what lies in store over the next 12 months. Willie Mullins’s sprint star is already virtually unbackable for the Champion Hurdle with bookmakers quoting prices as short as 2/1 in early December.

His novice year could hardly have gone any better and he justified his 6/4 favouritism for the Neptune at Cheltenham, winning by more than four lengths, before doubling down six weeks later with a win at Punchestown.

He was just as impressive on his seasonal reappearance, a three-and-three-quarter length win in the Ascot Hurdle. For now, it seems the sky is the limit.

Australia

Ryan Moore onboard The Grey Gatsby comes home to win just ahead of Australia ridden by Joseph O'Brien Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Aidan O’Brien trains a lot of very good horses so when he singles one out as “the best we’ve ever had,” people tend to sit up and take notice.

A third-place finish in the 2000 Guineas raised a couple of questions about Australia, the much-hyped son of Galileo and Ouija Board, but he thrived over the extra half-mile at Epsom to add another famous Derby trophy to the Ballydoyle cabinet.

A win in the Irish Derby followed but when Australia was expected to be the crowning glory on the inaugural Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown, he was beaten a neck by The Grey Gatsby (pictured above) before he was retired to stud with a hoof injury.

Lord Windermere

Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

When Jim Culloty’s Lord Windermere trailed home sixth in the Hennessy Gold Cup, 26 lengths behind winner Last Instalment, few gave him any realistic chance of challenging in the Cheltenham Gold Cup five weeks later.

But, in the hands of Davy Russell, the eight-year-old proved that the old adage about horses for courses is sometimes true and, in doing so, produced one of the outstanding moments of racing drama of the year.

His official winning distance over On His Own, another outsider, was a head but there were plenty of anxious moments for connections as the stewards announced an immediate enquiry. Lord Windermere had veered right over the final yards; in doing so, had he impeded On His Own?

The Channel 4 cameras were allowed into the stewards’ room as both Russell and David Casey made their case. The result was upheld and Russell, just a couple of months after losing his retainer with Gigginstown, had one of the biggest wins of his career.

Sole Power

Horse Racing - The Royal Ascot Meeting 2014 - Day One - Ascot Racecourse Source: EMPICS Sport

Eddie Lynam’s seven-year-old was named HRI Horse of the Year after another season in which he cemented his place as one of the top sprinters out there.

In a glorious summer run Sole Power won the Group 3 Palace House Stakes and then followed it up with back-to-back Group 1 wins in the King’s Stand Stakes at Ascot and the Nunthorpe Stakes at York.

The step up to six furlongs once again proved to be his undoing in the Betfred Sprint Cup at Haydock, and the International Sprint in Hong Kong, but take nothing away from another remarkable campaign

Pineau de Re

Horse Racing - The Crabbie's Grand National 2014 - Grand National Day - Aintree Racecourse Source: John Giles

The Aintree Grand National is always a good bet for a fairytale or two and after Auroras Encore’s surprise win in 2013, this time it was the turn of Pineau de Re and Leighton Aspell.

Kilcullen native Aspell, who retired from racing in 2007 only to change his mind 18 months later, scored the biggest win of his career on board the 25/1 shot — and made a few readers of TheScore.ie very happy indeed.

Quevega

Ruby Walsh celebrates winning on Queveg 11/3/2014 Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

All good things must come to an end and so it was with Willie Mullins’ wondermare Quevega who made her annual reappearance at Cheltenham and won the Mares’ Hurdle for a record sixth straight year — the only horse in festival history to win six-in-a-row.

The 10-year-old took one last shot at glory in the Punchestown World Hurdle but for the first time since May 2009, found one horse too good as she finished second to Jetson in her final race before retirement.

Annie Power

Horse Racing - 2014 Cheltenham Festival - St Patrick's Day - Cheltenham Racecourse Source: Joe Giddens

As one wondermare exited the stage, another emerged to take her place. 2014 was the year in which Annie Power proved that she is one of the top Irish hurdlers — male or female.

Impressive wins over Zarkandar at Ascot in November 2013 and at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day set the tone for a season in which anything seemed possible. The path led to the three-mile World Hurdle at Cheltenham where, in the expert hands of Ruby Walsh, she was sent off the 11/8 favourite.

She finished comfortably ahead of four-time winner Big Bucks, who was far below his best in the final race of an outstanding career, but couldn’t keep pace with More of That who consigned her to a first-ever defeat under rules.

Toast of New York

Breeders Cup Classic Horse Racing Source: AP/Press Association Images

Toast of New York’s was the fairytale that fell agonisingly short. European wins in the $5m Breeders’ Cup Classic are a rarity and few will come closer than Jamie Osborne without succeeding.

Only a nose separated Toast of New York, the winner Bayern, and immortality following a masterful ride on the dirt by Tipperary native Jamie Spencer in one of his final races before retiring (and then un-retiring).

There was a glimmer of hope when stewards called a lengthy enquiry into apparent interference by Bayern as the horses left the stalls, an incident which hampered hot favourite Shared Belief and left the frontrunner to make his own pace.

But when the dust settled Osborne, Spencer and connections had to settle for second.

Our Conor

Our Conor ridden by Bryan Cooper comes home to win Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

The year wasn’t without its tragic moments and few racing lovers will forget the sad fate of one of Ireland’s most promising talents, Our Conor, who was put down following a horror fall in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle.

“I’ve been in this game 40 years,” distraught owner Barry Connell said of his €1 million superstar.

“One of the reasons everyone loves it is that the highs are very high and the lows are very low.”

Originally published at 10.00

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Niall Kelly

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