Horse racing world pays tribute to amateur great JT McNamara


The world of racing has been united in grief as it paid tribute following the death of renowned amateur jockey John Thomas McNamara.

Known as JT to family, friends and fans, the top rider, from Croom, Co Limerick, was paralysed from the neck down after a fall at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013.

The venue had been the site of some of his most memorable victories which brought plaudits from weighing room contemporaries who said he was as skilled a horseman as virtually any professional.

It is understood JT suffered complications in recent days from his paralysis and spent time in hospital before returning home to Springfield Stables in Croom, where he died.

Sir Tony McCoy, the 20-time champion jockey, described being in tears after hearing the news and unable to put his loss into words.

He was in the Cheltenham weighing room when news emerged of JT's devastating fall from Galaxy Rock at the first fence in the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir chase for amateur riders on March 14 2013.

"I remember looking over and seeing his clothes hanging up and thinking he'll never be back in here and that's not something I'll ever forget," McCoy told RTE Radio.

"It's a very sad day for everyone in racing, especially his wife Caroline - she's a very tough and amazing woman.

"He was a remarkable man. He was a little bit like me - he could be grumpy enough at times ... but was very good-humoured.

"He was fantastic, a brilliant rider. I said this morning that watching his ride on Rith Dubh at the Cheltenham Festival was as good as you'll ever see."

JT McNamara is survived by his wife, Caroline, and children Dylan, Harry and Olivia.

He was 37 at the time of the accident and was said to have been contemplating retiring from the saddle.

After the devastating fall he was treated in Bristol's Frenchay Hospital, the Mater in Dublin and North West Regional Spinal Injuries Centre in Southport before being allowed to return home.

His life and death was marked at day two of the Galway Festival before the start of the second race.

He was regarded as one of the best amateur riders the sport has ever seen and rode more than 600 winners.

His record at Cheltenham spoke volumes with 16 wins at the track including four at the festival on board Rith Dubh in the 2002 National Hunt Chase; Spot Thedifference in the 2005 cross-country chase; Drombeag in the 2007 Foxhunter Chase; and Teaforthree in the 2012 National Hunt Chase

He won on Spot Thedifference at Cheltenham seven times.

That horse's trainer, Enda Bolger, said: "It's a sad day. He fought a great battle.

"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."

JT steered many horses to success for owner JP McManus.

His racing manager, Frank Berry, 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."

Barry Geraghty, who replaced McCoy as McManus' retained jockey following his retirement, hailed McNamara as a "brilliant fellow".

He added: "He was a brilliant rider, obviously, but he was such a good, fun person and I suppose he showed his true strength having to deal with this injury over the past few years.

"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."

After his return home to Limerick last June, JT began to train horses and an insight into his life came after the Injured Jockeys Fund encouraged him to do interviews with racing media.

He required two carers in the house and he could spend up to four hours at a time off a ventilator but he left to check his horses every day before 8am 

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

He told At The Races: "He's a real inspiration to a lot of people. 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."

Frankie Ward, regional secretary of point-to-points in Limerick, knew JT from a young age.

"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 said.

Patrick O'Donovan, junior sports minister in Ireland, said: "A proud Limerick man, JT has been an inspiration to us all in the very dignified and courageous way he adapted to his vastly changed circumstances."