An air of silence and sadness hung over the usually boisterous Ballybrit yesterday as the racing community mourned the passing of jockey John Thomas ‘JT’ McNamara.
The entire racecourse — trainers, jockeys and punters alike — stood in silence before the off of the second race of the day as a mark of respect to the jockey who passed away on Monday night at the age of just 41.
The Limerick rider had spent three years battling against catastrophic injuries he sustained in a fall at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013.
The Croom native won over 600 races during his illustrious career.
He won the 2002 National Hunt Chase on Rith Dubh and the same race again in 2012 on Teaforthree.
He also won the Cross-Country Chase with Spot Thedifference in 2005 and the 2007 Fox Hunter Chase on Drombea.
The father of three suffered paralysis after breaking his neck when his horse, Galaxy Rock, fell at the first fence in the 2013 Challenge Cup.
It was touch and go for the first few weeks after his horrific fall but his tenacity saw him through and he spent 15 months in rehabilitation in Britain and Ireland before returning to Croom.
It’s understood McNamara suffered medical complications last Friday and was taken to University Hospital Limerick. He was later discharged to spend his final days with his family.
Mr McNamara is survived by his wife Caroline and three children, Dylan, Harry, and Olivia, and was remembered by the racing community as one of their most skilled and bravest riders.
AP McCoy, the 20-time champion jockey, paid tribute to a “remarkable” man who was a brilliant rider.
“It is a very sad day for everyone in racing, especially his family. His wife Caroline, she’s a very tough and amazing woman, she has been since she’s been caring for JT. He was a remarkable man.
“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,” he told RTÉ.
The retired jockey said the day of the fall was one that he would never forget.
“I’ll never forget Adrian McGoldrick, who is the jockeys’ doctor in Ireland, coming in to me just after the race and telling me, because I was president of the Injured Jockeys Fund in England, that he was very ill and it was very serious.
“I remember looking over at his peg and seeing his clothes hanging up, and to this day I can picture it in my head and thinking that he’s never going to be back in here. And that’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.
Writing on his Paddy Power blog, jockey Ruby Walsh described Mr McNamara as a straight-talking man whom he looked up to as a young jockey at Enda Bolger’s stable.
“I was 17 or 18 and he was a few years older — maybe 21 or 22. I looked up to him. 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.
Trainer Ted Walsh also paid tribute to Mr McNamara as having “everything you’d want in a man”.
Mr Walsh was also present at Cheltenham when the accident occurred and said it was a day forever etched in his memory.
“It was a simple enough fall. He caught the top of the fence, turned over and he never moved. For a moment you’re thinking it’s an ordinary fall, but then a kind of a hush came over the place that JT was pretty seriously injured.
“We all gathered around, everybody that was there. Then the helicopter came in and when you see a helicopter coming in to move somebody you know it’s pretty serious. We didn’t know how serious, but there was a terrible hush around the place — absolutely dreadful, I’ll never forget it.”
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