Sunday 17 December 2017

Martin Molony

Jockey whose exploits were remembered long after he retired, writes Liam Collins

Celebrated: Martin Molony
Celebrated: Martin Molony
Liam Collins

Liam Collins

It is a tribute to Martin Molony, who died last Monday at the age of 91, that although he retired from horse racing in 1951 at the age of 26, his exploits as a jockey were still remembered and celebrated well over a half a century later.

Born in Rathmore House, Crecora (near Adare), Co Limerick, on July 20, 1925 Martin and his brother Tim, who died in 1989, were legendary figures in a bygone era of racing, when it was not unusual for jockeys to ride in jump and flat racing, rather than specialise as they mostly do today.

"He was Johnny Murtagh and Ruby Walsh rolled into one," said his son Peter following his father's death.

The Molony brothers recorded a unique racing feat when Tim won the British jockey championship in 1949, while Martin was runner-up as well as being champion jockey in Ireland that year. "It's important to put his achievements into context, because back then it was difficult to even get to Britain - let alone go there and ride big winners," said trainer Jim Draper, who was born the year Martin Moloney retired.

A self-effacing man, he was greatly admired for his achievements on the racecourse in the 1940s and early 1950s and for his knowledge of bloodstock. I recall meeting him many years go, without knowing of his accomplishments. But the respect with which he was treated by our host Dr Michael Smurfit indicated the esteem in which he was held in racing circles.

"The term legend is bandied about a lot, but Martin was a real legendary figure in Irish racing," said another well-known trainer, Kevin Prendergast, last week. "He was a brilliant jockey and a great friend of our family."

After school, Martin Molony, who was riding to hunt from a very young age with his father and mother (who rode side-saddle), was apprentice to Martin Hartigan, George Harris, Ginger Wellesley and Cyril Harty, winning his first race on Chitor, at the Curragh on October 28, 1941. He had a first winner over jumps on Shirley Lad at Leopardstown in December 1941.

He won the Irish Grand National in 1944, 1946 and 1950, the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Silver Fame in 1951, and on the flat he won the Irish Oaks (1947), the 1,000 Guineas (1950) and in 1951 he rode Signal Box to win the Irish 2,000 Guineas and came third in the Epsom Derby.

He was Champion Jockey in Ireland from 1946 (jointly) to 1951.

In a fall on Bursary in Thurles on September 18, 1951 he crushed his skull and was in a coma for some time. While considering his future he was offered two jobs, one on the flat as stable jockey to Paddy 'Darkie' Prendergast and the other as stable jockey to Vincent O'Brien, who at the time was the pre-eminent National Hunt trainer in Ireland.

In the event he took neither job and, on medical advice, retired to Rathmore House, where he engaged in farming, horse breeding and his passion for hunting with the Limerick Hounds.

On the hunting field he met Julia Hilton Green, who had moved to Ireland with her mother, Lady Helena Hilton Green, a daughter of the Earl Fitzwilliam, whose husband Chetwode Hilton-Green had died during the war in 1943. Martin and Julia married in 1960 and Julia's mother later married Lord Daresbury, who had been Master of the Limerick Hounds since 1947 and spent much of his time at his Irish residence in Adare, Co Limerick.

The Molonys had four children, including Mary who predeceased them. However, Julia suffered a muscle-wasting disease and though she maintained a keen interest in hunting and horseracing was confined to a wheelchair for the last 40 years of her life.

"She was an amazing woman," said Peter Molony of his mother, "and my father was an amazing man in the way he looked after and cared for her." She died last September.

In a family whose lives were shaped by horses, Peter followed his father in the racing business and now runs Rathmore Stud and represents Sheikh Fahad Al Thani's Qatar Racing in Ireland.

Martin Molony, whose funeral took place at St Michael's Church, Manister, Co Limerick, last Friday, is survived by his children Jan, Susanna and Peter.

Sunday Independent

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