Saturday 18 November 2017

'JT we're thinking of you' – cousin's tribute to jockey

Jockey Robbie McNamara and Trainer Jim Culloty with a signed Tricolour for injured jocket JT McNamara
Jockey Robbie McNamara and Trainer Jim Culloty with a signed Tricolour for injured jocket JT McNamara
Louise Hogan

Louise Hogan

IT was a simple message held aloft on a crumpled Irish flag.

'JT we're thinking of you' was scrawled in marker across the green, white and orange cloth quivering in the air in the outstretched arms of an ecstatic member of the McNamara clan.

At a priceless moment 25-year-old Robbie McNamara carried a message to his cousin John Thomas McNamara keeping a close watch from a rehabilitation hospital after a life-changing fall on the Thursday of last year's festival.

The young jockey – tasting the glory of the winner's enclosure for the second time this week – beamed in his success.

The 6ft3in Limerick man pulled a 'Frankie Dettori' as he leapt into the air off the back of the aptly named Spring Heeled to land softly on the green grass of Cheltenham.

The crowd cheered as McNamara, along with trainer Jim Culloty, held the message up to the racegoers – a show of support to JT who just wanted to enjoy watching the horses quietly on the day.

"This is lovely now, the icing on the cake," confessed a delighted Robbie, as his first festival win on Wednesday was "more of a relief".

"I've been trying for a long time to ride a winner here, had loads of seconds, loads of thirds. With the height of me, I'm not going to be riding forever. So it was kind of a matter of time if I was going to get that first winner yesterday. That was something to savour, I'll never forget that."

It was also a day of photo finishes and stunning surprises. One that many of the punters will never forget, as a monumental gamble on Carlow saviour Willie Mullins' supermare Annie Power – a reputed €5m splurge – left them battered.

It had been touted as a 'battle of the sexes' between Annie Power and the legendary veteran Big Buck's.

Yet, in the end, it was there for the taking by the powerful Meath man Barry Geraghty who romped up the famous hill on the JP McManus-owned young gun, More Of That, leaving the favourite Annie Power consigned to second.

"I'll make the most of it," said the man whose exploits in the betting ring earned him the nickname the 'Sundance Kid' in those early years.

Yet, after decades in the racing business, McManus admitted his heart was still in his mouth watching his charges hurtle around the track at 30mph.

"If it wasn't a little bit it wouldn't mean anything to you," he said. "I didn't have a punt on the race. Happy to cheer him home, I was glad to get Ladbrokes' money anyway," he joked.

And, whether he still had those infamous dalliances with the bookies was the question on everybody's lips. "I don't have to now," replied the soft-spoken businessman, with a throaty chuckle.

It emerged that €10,000 would be delivered to the Jockeys Emergency Fund – set up by the Turf Club to help those left paralysed by the sport – after a €100 charity bet with Boylesports from jockey Barry Geraghty on his winning rides – Jezki at 9/1 and More of That at 9/1 – delivered.

Irish Independent

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