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Saturday 23 June 2018

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'I’ll think of him smiling each day' - Tributes pour in for jockey JT McNamara

JT McNamara has died aged 41
JT McNamara has died aged 41
Cormac Byrne

Cormac Byrne

The world of horseracing has been plunged into mourning today with the tragic news of the death of former jockey John Thomas McNamara. He was 41 years of age.

McNamara, who made his name as one of the finest amateur jockeys in the history of national hunt racing, fractured two vertebrae in his neck after being thrown from his horse Galaxy Rock in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup on March14 , 2013 at the Cheltenham festival and was paralysed from the neck down.

McNamara was initially treated in Britain following the Cheltenham fall before being transferred to the spinal unit of the Mater Hospital, Dublin and eventually moving to the North West Regional Spinal Injuries Centre in Southport.

He eventually returned to his County Limerick home last June and had begun to establish a training operation at his Croom yard, although he required constant care.

A minute's silence will be observed before the 5.45 race at Galway this evening in McNamara's memory.

Racing pundit and trainer, Ted Walsh said JT was a “hard, tough man made of steel”.

He said the Cheltenham fall was “shocking”.

“He was riding a great horse and he caught the top of the fence and turned over and never moved and he never moved. For a moment, you thought it was an ordinary fall but then a hush came over the place as JT was serious injured and a helicopter came in. It was absolutely dreadful. I’ll never forget it,” Walsh said on RTE Radio One.

“I’m only on the outskirts but I knew him well. There was no weak side to him. He was a great fella who will be sadly missed. He was an inspiration to anyone who knew him,” Walsh said.

“We don’t appreciate our good heath every morning when we get up – every day you should think of that,” he added.

Retired jockey and world renowned sports figure AP McCoy said it was “a sad day for everyone in racing” and JT’s family.

“He was a brilliant rider,” McCoy said.

He recalled that on the day of JT’s fall, he looked over at JT’s spot in the Cheltenham weighing room.

“I remember looking over at his peg and seeing his clothes hanging up and to this day I can picture it in my head thinking ‘he’s never going to be back in here’. That’s something I’ll never forget,” McCoy said.

"JT brought a lot of people together.

“We’ll think of the positive things he brought. It is such a sad thing that happened – it is a sad day but John Thomas would like us to be positive about it and like us to think that he has done a lot of good and he has done that.”

McCoy acknowledged the death would cast a shadow over this week’s Galway Festival.

“I’ll think of him smiling each day and thinking about all those rides he gave horses. He was king of a lot of things,” McCoy said.

Andrew Coonan, secretary of the Irish Jockeys Association and a former amateur himself, paid tribute to McNamara's bravery in the face of such serious injury.

Tributes have been pouring in on social media:

May his family find strength from somewhere.We are all thinking and praying for them.

— Ronan O Gara (@RonanOGara10) July 26, 2016

He said: "JT had battled very bravely for the last few years of his life. It was a very, very tough time for him and his family and to have lost him at this stage is shocking.

"I rode against JT and watched him, and he was an incredibly accomplished rider, one of the best.

"It just serves as a reminder of the dangers the riders put themselves in for our sport. These things don't just happen to the less well-known jockeys, they happen to the best as well."

According to the Limerick Leader, the father-of-three is understood to have suffered complications on Friday night before being transferred to University Hospital Limerick

He was discharged to spend his final days with his family.

He is survived by his wife Caroline, his two sons Dylan, Harry and daughter Olivia.

McNamara had over 600 career wins and visited the winner's enclosure at the Cheltenham festival on four different occasions.

He won the National Hunt Chase twice, on board Rith Dubh in 2002 and he repeated the feat 10 years later on the Rebecca Curtis-trained Teaforthree.

He was also victorious on the Enda Bolger-trained Spot Thedifference in 2005 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, sporting the JP McManus silks that he carried to success on so many occasions.

McNamara enjoyed a special relationship with the Bolger-trained Spot Thedifference, steering the popular gelding to 11 of his 14 victories under Rules, including seven races at Cheltenham.

Bolger told Press Association Sport: "It's a sad day. He fought a great battle.

"He was one of those guys who only ever said three words but none would do. He was very unassuming and just a great person to have anything to do with.

"We had a lot of great days together and those are what I'll remember him for.

"He was an incredible horseman. I would say he was more of a horseman than a jockey."

He won the Foxhunters Chase at the festival for the same connections in 2007 on Drombeag.

McManus' racing manager, Frank Berry, hailed McNamara's fortitude.

He said: "It's so sad and all our thoughts go out to Caroline and the rest of the family.

"A nicer fellow you couldn't wish to meet. He was in great form up until maybe a week ago and he's definitely been a fighter. He fought a great fight.

"The boss and him and myself had so many great days together. He was a great rider, but he also did a lot of pre-training of a lot of our younger horses and was a great man to tell you whether they were good or no good."

Former leading jockey Mick Fitzgerald was forced to retire from the saddle after suffering a serious neck injuries when suffering a fall from L'Ami in the 2008 Grand National at Aintree.

He told At The Races: "The only thing I can say about him is he was a real fighter. That fall that he had, many people thought he would never recover from it, but he defied everybody.

"He's a real inspiration to a lot of people. He always had a smile and a wicked sense of humour.

"Every time I think about him, it makes me smile and I think that's the greatest thing you can say about anybody.

"It makes me realise how lucky I am.

"All he ever wanted was to be there for his family and he just loved being home. The greatest thing of all is he was able to do that for the last few years of his life.

"I can't speak highly enough of him and there's not a single person who will have a bad word to say about the man.

"It breaks my heart to think of his family, as this will be a tough time for them.

"I'm just privileged to have known him."

Frankie Ward, regional secretary of point-to-points in Limerick, knew McNamara from a young age and followed his career from ponies to racecourses.

"He was a hero, there's no doubt about it. He was a legend in his own lifetime even though it was a short one," she told Newstalk radio in Ireland.

"We will all miss him desperately.

"His colleagues at Galway today will be devastated, but let's celebrate his wonderful life because that's what we should be doing.

"And I'm sure God has probably got him as first jockey up there this morning."

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