Sunday 18 March 2018

O'Brien pays tribute to uncle Phonsie

"He was a big part of my dad's operation in the National Hunt years and rode many winners for him as an amateur," said O'Brien (pictured), who continues the family tradition on the Curragh. Photo: PA
Richard Forristal

Richard Forristal

Charles O'Brien has described his uncle Phonsie, brother of his legendary father Vincent and himself a successful trainer, as a "terrific man" ahead of his funeral tomorrow.

On Tuesday, it was announced that the seventh and youngest son of Dan O'Brien, whose only daughter Pauline Fogarty was a top golfer, had died peacefully at the age of 86.

Phonsie O'Brien played a major role in Vincent's early success, initially at their north Cork home in Clashganiff, Churchtown. An amateur jockey, he rode a number of winners for his brother at the Cheltenham Festival, one of which was the stable's 1954 Grand National hero Royal Tan, which Phonsie also steered into second in the 1951 Aintree spectacle behind Nickel Coin.

"He was a big part of my dad's operation in the National Hunt years and rode many winners for him as an amateur," said O'Brien, who continues the family tradition on the Curragh.

"He was a very good trainer in his own right and specialised in the Galway Plate. He was a terrific man, a larger-than-life character and he'll be missed by us all."

Phonsie O'Brien saddled four Galway Plate winners in a row up to 1965, although his most famous winner was renowned for all the wrong reasons.

He is credited as having trained the 1960 Irish Derby victor Chamour, the handling of which he did oversee at Ballydoyle, but only after Vincent's licence was controversially suspended for 18 months after the same horse tested positive for a prohibitive substance, 1/10,000th grain of an amphetamine derivative called methylamphetamine.

It was an unsavoury episode that left Vincent, who strenuously fought the charge, on the verge of turning his back on the game upon which he would leave such an indelible mark.

Read more: A man for all seasons

After the ban was reduced to 12 months by the Turf Club - which also issued an apology - 'MV', who died in 2009 aged 92, resumed control at Ballydoyle in 1961.

Phonsie's own training career began at South Lodge in Carrick-on-Suir, and he then moved to Thomastown Castle Stud in Cashel, which is now the base of Tommy Stack.

In March, Vincent's Australian-born wife Jacqueline died aged 89, so Phonsie's passing is another loss to a dynasty that shaped the culture of excellence that exists in Irish racing today.

Recently, O'Brien, who is survived by his wife Anne and their three daughters, lived in Kilsheelin, Co Tipperary.

He will repose at his Landscape House home today between 3pm and 7pm, and his funeral will take place in St Thomas the Apostle Church, Rosegreen at midday tomorrow.

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