Jack Tyner - a fledgling life cruelly cut short by the sport he lived for
The Cork and Waterford point-to-point circuit is renowned as a rich breeding ground for the National Hunt game. It's where many of the best jockeys and trainers learn their trade, where countless Gold Cup horses first reveal their class.
Maybe it has something to do with the origins of jump racing between the church steeples of Buttevant and Doneraile in 1752. From Norman Williamson and Davy Russell to Beef Or Salmon and Denman, masses of jump racing's biggest names have shot to prominence at rain-sodden venues such as Dromahane and Tallow.
Of course, it was also the region in which 19-year-old Jack Tyner was making his mark, and met a tragic end after a fall at Dungarvan on February 1. A fledgling life cruelly cut down in an environment synonymous with the promise of youth.
Now, following the popular teenager's death, the people who watched him grow and held him in such great affection must pick themselves up and somehow try to move on. At Knockanard point-to-point, three days after Jack was laid to rest, that excruciating reality was crystallised.
Sited on the undulating grasslands of two neighbouring farmers close to the north Cork village of Castlelyons, the fixture appears little different on the surface to most other point-to-points run under the auspices of the Cork and Waterford administration. Typically, a downpour has saturated the ground the previous evening.
Local accents prevail as adults and children alike deliberate passionately over the various reputations that are at stake on the day. It is ever thus, a hardcore of enthusiasts braving the chilly air in the hope of seeing, and maybe even backing, the next Denman.
For all the familiar musings, though, the week that was casts an unmistakable shadow over proceedings. The loss suffered by the Kinsale-based husband and wife partnership of Robert and Mary Tyner is still raw.
Each jockey sports a black armband in memory of their former colleague, while a minute's silence is observed before the first race. A total of 17 horses fill the parade ring during the mark of respect, yet there isn't as much as a tail swished for the duration.
It is a difficult day for everyone, particularly for the hardworking grassroots whose business is this life. For Robert and Mary, life is an altogether different business now.
Robert is in attendance, present to saddle his numerous runners throughout the afternoon. At times he cuts a solitary figure, as colleagues and friends dally, unsure about how to exchange dialogue with a man who has just buried his only son and eldest child. What can you say to a grieving father?
It is a common predicament, one neatly summed up by Adrian Maguire, who saddled Denman to win at Liscarroll in 2005.
"The hearts of the whole Irish racing community go out to Robert and Mary," he says earnestly, "but it's hard to know what to say to them in such circumstances.
"I saw Mary at Leopardstown yesterday, and I hadn't the guts to go over to her. I met Robert there now and told him as much."
Having lost his 17-year-old brother Finny in a hit-and-run 20 years ago, Maguire can identify with the Tyners' trauma. "Unfortunately I know what tragedy is in a family. The pain will never leave them, but it will ease. As time goes by, it will ease."
Once racing gets under way, it's almost as though nothing has changed. In the opening five-year-old geldings' maiden, three or four horses carry tall expectations. True to form, Liam Burke has a hotly tipped Paul Barber-owned favourite, closely followed in the betting by Kandinski, a Bienamado gelding trained by Robert Tyner.
As the field turns for home, Kandinski travels ominously well, and Gerry Mangan punches the air as the partnership flashes by the post a half-a-length to the good. It is a poignant victory that has every punter on site bound for a teary winner's enclosure.
However, things have changed, and photo opportunities are the last thing on Tyner's mind. Understandably, when he doubles up later on, he is again absent, busying himself back at the horse lorry, away from the glare of the camera.
All the same, it is somehow comforting to see him here at all, doing his best to get on with things. You couldn't but draw solace from such resolve.
"I can't imagine what it's like to lose a child," Liam Burke laments, "but I suppose you have to keep moving. It'll be hard for them not to think about it, but they're in the best game to keep their minds occupied, even though it happened in this game.
"It's hard on the lads in the jockeys' room, too -- you're going to feel it in there. I remember losing one of my best friends, Mossie O'Neill, in the same circumstances back in 1992. It's very tough, but life must go on, I suppose."
Later, Jimmy Mangan, whose 2003 Grand National winner Monty's Pass also set out on his famous journey in these parts, reveals: "I was near the fence when Jack got the fall, and he just hit the ground with desperate force.
"The feeling of loss is still fresh in people's minds, but time is a great healer, and everybody is behind the Tyners. I was actually speaking to Mary at Leopardstown yesterday and she said to me, 'What can you do? We are heartbroken, but it was either sit at home and look at all the photographs, or go on with life.' I have to say I thought it was an unbelievable performance out of that woman to be racing yesterday."
As the day wears on at Knockanard, more well-wishers pluck up the fortitude to approach the bereaved. Humbled by his own courage, you venture to engage in something that resembles an ordinary conversation at this extraordinary time for him.
When you ask about the challenge of returning to some form of routine, Robert echoes his wife's inspirational sentiments. "I don't know," he confides simply, "we just decided to keep going."
No one would ask any more of them than that.