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Con Collins, father figure of all Curragh trainers, dies aged 82.

Byline: By Tony O'Hehir

CON COLLINS, the father figure of all Curragh trainers and the longest-serving member of his profession in Ireland, has died at the age of 82.

He became ill suddenly on Friday and was taken to Tallaght Hospital in Dublin, where he died peacefully yesterday morning.

A trainer since 1952, Collins, who was an extremely popular figure among his colleagues, achieved his biggest success in 1984 when Princess Pati won the Irish Oaks, ridden by Pat Shanahan who had been apprenticed to Collins and who remains closely involved with the yard.

Collins began his training career at Lisieux Stables on the Curragh before moving to Melitta Lodge for seven years. He then succeeded his father, Mick, who trained successfully in the 1940s and early '50s mainly for Joe McGrath, at Conyngham Lodge from where he enjoyed considerable success for five decades.

Although best known as a trainer of Flat horses, he achieved his first success as a trainer when Hallelujah, owned by George A Garrett, a former US ambassador to Ireland, won the Lowergrange Maiden Hurdle under Maurice Hartnett at Gowran Park in 1952.

Apart from Princess Pati, other major race winners he trained included Sandy Creek, who won the Observer Gold Cup (now the Racing Post Trophy) under Christy Roche at Doncaster in 1978 and Chelsea Rose, who landed the Group 1 Moyglare Stud Stakes, ridden by Shanahan, in 2004.

In the same year, Collins was also presented with Horse Racing Ireland's Contribution to the Industry award.

Sandy Creek was owned by Northern Ireland bookmaker Alfie McLean, who died last year and who, along with fellow bookmaker Barney Eastwood, had a successful association with the Collins stable since the late 1960s.

When The Court landed the Scurry Handicap at the 1968 Irish Derby meeting at the Curragh he was the first of many gambles Collins landed for McLean and his associates. Collins won many handicaps on big days at the Curragh and also enjoyed considerable success at Tralee.

See You Then, who went on to land three consecutive Champion Hurdles, was also trained by Collins for McLean before moving to Nicky Henderson. The McLean link continued in recent years with smart sprinter Dandy Man, winner of the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket last year.

Collins trained Lady Alexander, the dam of Dandy Man, to win the Molecomb Stakes in 1997. The same filly upset King Of Kings when landing the Anglesey Stakes at the Curragh that same year.

He also won the Molecomb Stakes with Almaty, who was owned by Peter Savill, for whom he also trained Raphane, winner of the Group 3 Curragh Stakes in 1996. Abergwaun, who went on to take top sprint honours for Vincent O'Brien, won as a two-year-old for Collins.

A former champion amateur rider, Collins once rode a treble at Laytown, although he always envied his daughter, Tracey, who rode a winner (Forever Fair on Irish Oaks day 1990) at the Curragh, something he never achieved.

He won back-to-back runnings of the Irish Cesarewitch with Cill Dara in 1976-77, while Is King won the 1987 Scurry Handicap at the Curragh when he was backed from 20-1 into 9-2.

Although he still attended meetings at the Curragh with his wife, Barbara, he had not been in the best of health, and had his mobility reduced after having a leg shattered when kicked by a horse in the parade ring at the first Curragh meeting of the 2005 season.

His daughters Tracey, his assistant and regular on-track representative, Sheena, a trainer in her own right, and Natalie have been involved in the Collins training operation in recent years.

Speaking from Dubai yesterday, Shanahan said: "It's very sad news. I started with Con in 1978 and, in my eyes, he was a legend. He was a genius with horses and a great trainer. He was also a gent to work with and to deal with."

The funeral is expected to take place on Friday, although plans had not been finalised yesterday.

TRIBUTES TO CON COLLINS

John Oxx

"I knew Con virtually all my life. He was always a very nice man and a very good trainer who always got the best out of his horses. Everyone had great respect for him and it won't be the same without him around."

Kevin Prendergast

"He and I were great pals going back a long number of years. We had great sport together. We golfed and we used to fish and shoot. It was unfortunate he got that kick at the Curragh as it set him back a good bit. He was a great trainer and a great friend and so many people, myself included, will miss him a lot."

Dermot Weld

"Con made a huge contribution to Irish racing during a distinguished and illustrious career. He'll be very much missed by everyone and my sympathies go to Barbara and his daughters."

Jim Bolger

"He was a trainer and person of the highest calibre and will be sorely missed in the training ranks."

Brian Kavanagh, chief executive, Horse Racing Ireland

"It's very sad news and we send our deepest sympathies to Barbara and the girls. Con was a legend in Irish racing. His horses were always impeccably turned out and they won races at all levels of the game. He had wonderful owners and he served them very well over a long number of years."

Denis Egan, chief executive, Turf Club

"We're all greatly saddened at the death of someone who had been involved in racing as a trainer for 55 years. It is the end of an era."

John O'Donoghue TD, minister for arts, sport and tourism

"It was with great sadness that I learned of the death of one of Ireland's finest racehorse trainers. Con was an outstandingly successful trainer. Renowned for both the loyalty and long service of his staff, runners from the Collins yard were always impeccably turned out.

"My condolences and deepest sympathy to the family and to all his friends in racing on this very sad occasion."

Jim Kavanagh, chief executive, Irish Racehorse Trainers' Association

"Con was a neighbour for many years. He was an absolute gentleman to deal with and an excellent trainer and a great judge of a horse. He was a member of our association and served on the committee. He used to love his game of golf. He was a true professional and will be sadly missed by everyone."

CAPTION(S):

Pat Shanahan punches the air after winning the Moyglare Stud Stakes on Chelsea Rose' Con Collins, pictured with daughter and assistant Tracey, was Ireland's longest-serving trainer, having started in 1952
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 31, 2007
Words:1105
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