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Rob James and Barry O'Neill to share championship spoils

Image © Healy Racing

There will be two names added to The Irish Field Champion Rider's prize this year, with Rob James and Barry O’Neill electing to sit out the final weekend of the season, which will see them share the championship spoils.
The pair are currently tied on 39 winners apiece, but they have collectively decided not to ride at any of this weekend’s fixtures in Tralee, Ballingarry, or Inchydoney, leaving the prize to be shared between the close friends.
The defending champion O’Neill only pulled back level with James on his final ride of last weekend at Ballindenisk, and it will now result in yet another successful defence of his championship title, which he has now won for eight straight seasons, having first gained the crown in a thrilling final-day showdown at Ballingarry with Jamie Codd in 2017.
Following six relatively straightforward defences of the title since then, Rob James provided him with a stiff test this season, particularly since the turn of the year, when James rocketed up the leaderboard, as his chief supporter Donnchadh Doyle struck top gear in the spring term.
With O’Neill then sidelined after sustaining a back injury in a fall at Knockanohill in March, James moved to the top of the standings on the final weekend of April, as he entered the month of May with an advantage of four winners. 
The defending champion cut that in half across the Bank Holiday weekend at the beginning of May, with the pair notably winning the opening five races at Dawstown as the title race really struck top gear.
A week later and the gap between the pair was further reduced to just a slender single-winner advantage, and last weekend, despite James winning both divides of the four-year-old auction maiden at Stradbally, O’Neill immediately countered back with a Taylorstown double of his own.
Colin Bowe’s Backonthegoagain was the all-important winner to bring him back level in the winners-of-one contest at Ballindenisk last Sunday.
It is O’Neill’s eighth time being crowned champion point-to-point rider, but it is a first for James, who last weekend also sealed a share of the Eastern regional title, and it is a fitting end to the season that the two close friends will share the championship title.
Previous ties to The Irish Field Leading Rider prize (since 1956):
2002 – John Thomas McNamara / Davy Russell (56 winners)
1996 – Tony Martin / Dermot Costello (31 winners) 
1990 – Enda Bolger / John Berry / Paddy Graffin (28 winners)
1979 – Michael Sleator / Thomas Kinane Jnr (13 winners)
1977 – Nicky Dee / Rosemary Stewart (17 winners)
1967 – Bill McLernon / Connie Vaughan (15 winners)
1963 – B O’Brien / Connie Vaughan (14 winners)


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