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Sadness as top trainer John (69) dies in hospital

A cloud of sadness hung over Cheltenham today following the death of businessman and racehorse trainer John Mulhern at 69.

The retired operator of Kildare's Meadow Court Stud -- who was married to Eimear Mulhern, daughter of the late Taoiseach Charles Haughey -- passed away at the Mater Hospital in Dublin yesterday.

Leading the tributes for the former head of the Findus Food operation in Ireland was Tamso Doyle of Horse Racing Ireland, who said his loss would be sorely felt at this year's festival.

"It is really sad for the racing industry," she said.

"John's been battling a long illness and he passed away with Eimear by his bedside.

"He was a great character and a good family friend. He and my grandfather Jack were very close.

"We'll always remember his colours, red with the white question mark.

"One of his most outstanding achievements was with Galmoy in '87 and '88 when he trained him to win the Stavers Hurdle at Cheltenham.

"And, of course, he also trained Flashing Steel to win the Grand National in '95," she added.

Punters at favourite Cheltenham haunts including O'Neill's and Queen's Hotel, last night raised a glass in memory of the Irish racing figure.

Mr Mulhern's funeral will take place in Dublin tomorrow.