Nine years after first receiving Waterford sport’s most prestigious individual accolade, jockey Tom Queally of Cappagh was once again the toast of the Park Hotel on Saturday night last.
The 25-year-old, now riding for the great Henry Cecil, proved a popular winner of the Park Hotel Supreme Sports Star Award, which he proudly accepted before a packed auditorium.
“This really tops off the year for me,” said Queally after receiving the trophy from Park Hotel proprietor Pierce Flynn. “It’s the icing on the cake.”
Queally, who won five Group 1 races during 2009, then crossed the Atlantic to win the Breeders Cup aboard Midday, securing a maiden win for Henry Cecil in the blue riband event.
“When I was riding for Aidan O’Brien, I used to see Mick Kinane going to America for the Breeders Cup each year,” he told MC Kieran O’Connor (top class on the night himself).
“I saw the attention and the preparation that the team and the horses were getting. As an apprentice, I watched all of that and wondered if I would ever get an opportunity to go there myself.”
The Breeders Cup has always been a massive event for Tom, both as a racing fan and as a practitioner. “Putting it into perspective, the lads and I would get a Chinese takeaway on the evening of the Breeders Cup and stay in to watch it on TV!”
To win the event was a dream come true for rider and owner, but the quietly spoken Tom is not one for getting carried away with his achievements.
“I’m 25 now and I’ve been on horse back for 22 years, so this success has been a long time coming, depending on the way you look at it,” he continued.
“I’ve had many good days and bad days along the way, but that’s the same in any walk of life – everyone has their ups and their downs.
“You must have a strong character to do it and get on with things; you’ve got to get stuck in and take on the workload.”
On a night when guest of honour Ray Houghton fittingly paid tribute to the role that families play in the successful lives of athletes, Tom Queally thanked parents Declan and Bernie for their immeasurable input.
“There was always a horse box full of ponies and a jeep full of diesel waiting and wherever I had to go there was never a problem,” he said.
“And it’s all come together for me this year – it’s been a very special year for me and it was great to get the chance. That’s all anyone needs and it goes to show what can happen if you get the opportunity.”
In a comment that could go down in the annals of horse racing, Tom struck a Ted Walsh-like note when reflecting on his brilliant year.
“At the end of the day, it’s just a horse and you’re on top of it. If nine out of the ten lads in the weighroom that day got up on the horse, they would have won the race as well.”
That magnanimous assertion won Queally a deserved round of applause, his comments capturing the essence of not only the night, but the spirit of an Awards scheme now 19 years young.
Home remains vitally important to Tom, who rode 110 winners last year, earning £4.1 million Stg for their owners (“the taxman sees 50 per cent of that,” he interjected).
“I’ve got a great following here and it’s very special to me when I come back and see all the newspaper cuttings which Bernie keeps for me. I’ve been all over the world, but when I come back and see (reports) in the (local) papers, there’s something heart-warming about that.”
Watching Tom power his way
to a series of prestigious victories warmed the hearts and filled the pockets of many a delighted punter during 2009.
That further glory days await this most quietly spoken and sporting of sportsmen goes without saying.
It may have taken 22 years to get this far, yet there’s a delightful suspicion that Tom Queally’s greatest achievements still remain ahead of him.
Hearty congratulations to Tom, who became the fifth sportsperson to win the Supreme Sports Star Award for the second time, joining Capt John Ledingham, Tony Browne, John O’Shea and Dan Shanahan on that illustrious list.