JT McNamara tribute: Gifted, peerless, humble - a giant of the weigh room
Published 27/07/2016 | 02:30
It is simply impossible to overstate JT McNamara's loss to the racing community.
Our thoughts are first and foremost with his wife Caroline and their family. Three years ago, when the news first filtered through to the press room in Cheltenham that JT was in real trouble, it knocked me for six. I knew McNamara from my riding days and had dealt with him in a journalistic capacity.
He was an unfailingly humble person and an absolute pleasure to deal with. But bad things happen to good people.
What resonated so profoundly was that, like me, he was a husband and father to young children, all of whose lives would be changed by Galaxy Rock's Kim Muir Chase fall. The McNamaras' plight hit home, far too close to the bone.
The famously close-knit racing community has rallied in support since, both in a financial and moral sense.
For all McNamara's courage in adversity, it was a physical and psychological ordeal for him and those closest to him. Now that he is at peace, our thoughts remain primarily with those that he leaves behind.
A wife is left without her husband, children without their father, parents without their son. It is a high price to pay for pursuing a career in the saddle, but that is the nature of the job.
McNamara was a giant of the weigh room. One of the finest amateur riders to ever grace the saddle, he was a five-time point-to-point champion jockey.
But he was also peerless in the white heat of battle at Cheltenham in March. His four triumphs at the Festival are spearheaded by steers on Rith Dubh and Drombeag, two quirky characters on which McNamara's sublime gift oozed perceptibly. Both were owned by JP McManus, and the rider's efforts rendered colleagues dumbfounded.
He was a horseman to his fingertips, but that doesn't absolve anyone of the danger. You buy into that when you sign up for such a pugilistic profession, and McNamara relished the thrill of the chase more than anyone. The game defined him, and he was a source of inspiration to as many after that calamitous Cheltenham fall as he was before it.
That won't change, but now he is gone aged 41, joining Kieran Kelly, Sean Cleary, Dary Cullen and Jack Tyner in having lost their lives as a result of a fall in recent times. His first cousin Robbie McNamara has needed to display similar tenacity as he embarks on a training career, having been left paralysed from the waist down following a fall at Wexford last year.
Their fellow Limerick man Shane Broderick continues to be an example to all despite also being paralysed from the neck down, and Jonjo Bright endures a similar existence.
It is an attritional vocation, one at which McNamara excelled for so long, and from which he was so close to emerging unscathed until disaster struck. It was a cruel end to a glorious career. His death marks the conclusion of a life that can be described in similar terms, but McNamara's spirit will live on. He was a unique man with a rare talent whose decency touched the lives of so many others.
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