VALERIE Keatley, head girl for trainer Johnny Murtagh, was announced as the Irish Racing Excellence Award winner at the 2021 Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards this week.

Also the winner of the Leadership Award for Stable Employees, Valerie was among eight individual category winners, and was selected by the judging committee for the highest accolade.

Valerie joined Johnny Murtagh’s not long after he set up his training business and Johnny credits her contribution as one of the reasons why the yard has performed consistently on an upward curve over the last number of years.

Her wealth of knowledge and experience, her passion for horses and her mentorship of young staff really impressed the judging committee. It was evident from Valerie’s nomination that she sets and leads the standard for the yard and the judges commended her for her dedication to her job, the horses in her care and her exceptional work ethic.

“I eat, sleep and breathe horses, so it was a huge honour to be nominated and be chosen as one of the finalists,” Valerie said. “To win the Leadership Stable Award, and then win the Irish Racing Excellence Award, is just unbelievable. I am over the moon, especially when I was nominated with all the other brilliant finalists and winners this year.”

Inspiring winners

Joe Osborne, managing director of Godolphin Ireland, commented: “On behalf of Godolphin and our fellow sponsors I congratulate the winners. It is an inspiring array of talent, dedication and enthusiasm – talents which have helped us all navigate our sector through a difficult time.

“Valerie Keatley deserves particular mention as winner of the Irish Racing Excellence Award. She is a great role model for everyone in our industry and we are delighted that her leadership skills have been credited with that prestigious award by the judging committee.”

Bernard Caldwell, Irish Stablestaff Association CEO, said: “It is so rewarding to see so many well-deserving stud and stable staff acknowledged with prestigious Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards.

“The standard of the nominations gets higher and higher each year so congratulations to all the finalists and winners. I would like to sincerely thank Godolphin for their generous sponsorship, everyone who nominated their staff, colleagues and friends, and acknowledge HRI for managing the entire awards event.”

Shane O’Dwyer, CEO of the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Association, said: “The Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards are a wonderful opportunity for the thoroughbred industry to acknowledge and appreciate all those working in both the breeding and racing sectors in Ireland.

“We should be very proud of the dedication and resilience of our committed stud and stable staff, who are at the very heart and core of our wonderful industry. Many congratulations to all the very deserving finalists and winners.”

The 11 award categories carry over €85,000 in prize money, which is divided among the winners, finalists, and their employers. The Newcomer Award winner also receives a trip to Dubai.

In addition, the winner in each category receives a specially commissioned trophy by sculptor Ani Mollereau.

The award winners

Irish Racing Excellence Award

Winner: Valerie Keatley, Head Girl, Johnny Murtagh, Co Kildare

Racing and Breeding Support Services Award

Winner: Helen O’Sullivan, Career Coach, Irish Jockeys’ Trust, Co Kildare

Runners-up: Cathy Healy, Office Manager, Healy Racing Photography, Co Kerry, and Niall Kennedy, Owner, Equestrian Laundry, Co Kildare

Administration Award

Winner: Anne O’Connor, Racing Secretary, Michael Halford, Co Kildare

Runners-up: Aoife Hanratty, Stud Secretary, Oghill House Stud, Co Kildare and Marie Rowley, Racing Secretary, Pat Flynn, Co Waterford

Newcomer Award

Winner: Keith Lynam, Stud Groom, Ringfort Stud, Co Offaly

Runners-up: Nicholas Cope, Stud Groom, Ballyphilip Stud, Co Limerick, and Kelly Rae, Groom, Sarah Lynam, Co Meath

Horse Care Award

Winner: Emmett Raher, Head Lad, Henry de Bromhead, Co Waterford

Runners-up: Jennifer Breslin, Assistant Broodmare Manager, Ballylinch Stud, Co Kilkenny, and George Dobbs, Stud Hand, Staffordstown Stud, Co Meath

In The Saddle Award

Winner: David Glennon, Stable Lad, Dermot Weld, Co Kildare

Runners-up: Ray Michael Cody, Head Lad, Ray P Cody, Co Kilkenny, and Diarmuid Keeling, Exercise Rider & Groom, Willie Mullins, Co Carlow

Leadership Award (Stud)

Winner: Caroline Hannon, Manager, Newtown Stud, Co Kildare

Runners-up: Brian Delahunt, Stud Groom, Baroda Stud, Co Kildare, and Agathe Lebailly, Stud Groom, Kilfrush Stud, Co Limerick

Leadership Award (Stable)

Winner: Valerie Keatley, Head Girl, Johnny Murtagh, Co Kildare

Runners-up: Adrien Bolger, Yard Manager, Jessica Harrington, Co Kildare, and Damien Byrne, Team Leader, Joseph O’Brien, Co Kilkenny

Dedication to Racing and Breeding Award

Winner: Ger Brabston, Horsebox Driver, Derrinstown Stud, Co Kildare

Runners-up: David Flynn, Travelling Head Lad, Michael Grassick, Co Kildare, and Michael Lyons, Second Man, Mount Coote Stud, Co Limerick

Special Recognition Award

Winner: Dr Jennifer Pugh, Senior Medical Officer, IHRB

Racecourse Award

Winner: Tramore Racecourse