Jockey dies three years after accident at Cheltenham paralysed him
JT McNamara has been remembered as a jockey who broke the mould, and broke records others didn't think possible - but above all, as a man "unique both in and out of the saddle".
John Thomas McNamara died at his home in Croom, Co Limerick, yesterday, surrounded by his family.
The 41-year-old had battled valiantly after suffering a devastating injury in Cheltenham in 2013 which left him paralysed from the neck down. After intensive treatment both in Ireland and the UK, JT finally returned home in June 2014 determined to carry on and working as a trainer from his wheelchair. But on Tuesday morning he lost his battle.
As the world of horse racing mourned a much loved son, tributes to the record-breaking amateur jockey flowed from some of the greats in the sport, gathered in Ballybrit for the Galway Races.
Among them was renowned trainer and pundit Ted Walsh who said he was "admired, liked and respected by everybody in the racing industry".
"I couldn't pay him a high enough compliment. He was an honest-to-God fella, that's for sure. What you saw was what you got, there was no bad side to JT. He was a tough man. I admired him as a rider and I hugely respected him as a man."
"He was great company and he was the kind of fella you just wish there was more like him in the world," he added.
The thoughts of everyone in Galway were with his wife Caroline and children Dylan, Harry and Olivia, where the inspirational career of the amateur jockey, who had 600 winners including four at the Cheltenham Festival, was also remembered. Jockey Ruby Walsh told how he had looked up to JT when they met at Enda Bolger's stable when he was a teenager and JT was a few years older.
"He was a genuine guy and someone whose opinion you respected. Honesty was one of his main characteristics and if he had something on his mind, he wasn't long about letting you know. I appreciated that in him back then and all the times since. It's such a sad loss," he said on his Paddy Power blog.
Commentator Richard Pugh, founder of Irish Point-to-Point Services, was a close friend of the jockey. "He broke the mould. He broke records which we didn't think were possible. Enda Bulger had a record of 400 winners, John Thomas rode 600. He added 50pc to the previous man's best and the previous man was a good man so he was exceptional," he said. A close personal friend for 20 years, yesterday was "a hard day" for him and many others. He told how his friend had transferred his resolve and mental toughness to battle against his injury.
"I think the hardest part for us was his mind remained so desperately sharp since the accident, absolutely clinically sharp. I do commentaries and if I made a mistake, the first person who would tell me was him. So to see that his body wasn't able to keep up with his mind was clearly hard for him but it was hard for us, his friends, watching it too," he said.
"The fact that he was able to battle it for three years was testament to his toughness and his resilience," he added.
Turf Club Chief Medical Officer Dr Adrian McGoldrick, the first to treat him after his life-changing fall, said he could have rivalled any professional had he chosen.
"He was unique both in and out of the saddle. In the saddle, he was up with the best, during his illness there was never a negative thought out of him. I used to go visit him and particularly in the first 18 months, I'd be nervous about what to say but JT had read the 'Field', the 'Racing Post', knew the news, knew all the scandal. And what was meant to be a half-minute chat turned out to be three hours. He was amazing, he was so positive it was quite remarkable," he added.
JT McNamara will be laid to rest on Friday in his hometown of Croom.
Tributes are paid to 'wonderful horseman and lovely person' JT
"He was the most wonderful horseman, his record speaks for itself and a lovely person. It's very, very sad. It was very sad when he got hurt and he's battled incredibly well and my sympathy goes out to his family and his children" - Jessica Harrington.
"He was a wonderful jockey, it's a very sad for the family and for racing. I also feel for the trainer and the owner of the horse too. They will be feeling it all again today." - Michael Grassick, CEO of trainers association
"I knew him well - a pure gent, a brilliant horseman, a smashing gentleman and a lovely family man, so it's very, very sad and it brings it into perspective the nature of the beast." - Trainer Michael 'Mouse' Morris
"He was a little bit like myself at times, he could be grumpy enough. But was very good-humoured, a fantastic, brilliant rider. If anyone watched his ride on Rith Dubh at the Cheltenham Festival, it was as good as you could ever wish to see." - Tony McCoy
"A nicer fellow you couldn't wish to meet. He was in great form up until maybe a week ago and he has definitely been a fighter. He fought a great fight. The boss and him and myself had so many great days together." - Frank Berry, racing manager for JP McManus
"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." - Andrew Coonan, secretary of the Irish Jockeys Association
"If you visited him, before you'd know it, an hour had passed. The conversation always flowed and there was never any self-pity. He could hold his own amongst professionals and was better than most. Nothing fazed JT. He was cool as a breeze."
- Barry Geraghty