independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

O'Neill left 'sick' with guilt over horror injury to McNamara

Jonjo O'Neill

Trainer Jonjo O'Neill has spoken for the first time about the spinal injury that has left JT McNamara paralysed from the neck down, saying that he has had to reluctantly accept that he could have done nothing to alter the leading amateur rider's awful fate.

McNamara was riding Galaxy Rock for the Co Cork-born trainer when they crashed out at the first fence in the Kim Muir Chase at Cheltenham last month.

The 37-year-old remains in hospital in Bristol, and O'Neill (above) admits that he has been tormented by guilt over the incident.

"We're all hurt over it, we're all sick. You're thinking all kinds of things, trying to blame yourself," the Castletownroche native confided. "Should I have done this? Should I have done that? Was it the wrong race? But they'd been fourth in it before, the two of them, and we were all looking forward to it."

O'Neill and McNamara had formed a potent partnership over the years, chiefly through their shared association with JP McManus-owned horses.

The Croom rider was seen at his consummate best when getting McManus' quirky Rith Dubh up by a head in a famous tussle with Timbera in the four-miler at Cheltenham in 2002, and performed a feat of similarly nuanced proportions to prevail on Drombeag in the Foxhunters five years later.

Through it all, both men became very close friends.

After visiting McNamara, he said philosophically that he has come to terms with the fact that "your life is mapped out for you".

Jonjo Bright, an 18-year-old point-to-point rider, also suffered a serious neck injury in a fall at a meeting at Tyrella last month, and both riders will benefit from a €200,000 gift that Michael O'Leary, one of jump racing's biggest patrons alongside McManus, donated to the Injured Jockeys Fund this week.

O'Neill was talking ahead of Saturday's Aintree Grand National, when last year's narrow runner-up Sunnyhillboy will be one of two runners from his Jackdaws Castle stable.

Synchronised, his McManus-owned Gold Cup winner, met a fatal end in the 2012 race.

Asked if such distressing incidents prompted him to reconsider his vocation, the man who enjoyed such a memorable success at Liverpool in 2010 courtesy of the AP McCoy-ridden Don't Push It replied: "No. You never give up. If you give up the fight, you might as well curl up and die.

"No, I'd never do that. And he'll be the same, John Thomas."

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