Racing mourns NH legend Fitzgerald

JIMMY FITZGERALD, trainer of 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Forgive’N Forget, died yesterday at the age of 69.

Irish-born FitzGerald passed away in hospital yesterday afternoon following a long illness.

Having enjoyed a successful career as a jump jockey, FitzGerald sent out a host of big-race winners from his Malton base.

After 33 years with a licence and about 1,200 winners, he handed over the reins of his Norton Grand stables to his son Tim at the end of February 2003.

Mark Dwyer, FitzGerald’s former stable jockey over jumps, said: “We had many good times. Forgive’N Forget would obviously be one of the highlights but there were many others, including Galway Blaze winning the Hennessy and Androma the Scottish National.

“Jimmy was a good all-round horseman and there was no-one better at getting a horse ready for the big day.

“It’s very sad and I feel sorry for his family.”

FitzGerald was instrumental in guiding the fledgling career of current Flat champion jockey Kieren Fallon when he came over from his native Ireland.

“He was a great friend and I admired him a lot. The game will not seem the same without him,” the rider said.

“He was like a father figure to me and his death is a great shock to racing as a whole.

“He was a great hero to me. He has been ill for some time and I had been to see him recently after I won the Yorkshire Oaks on Quiff.

“He was always there for me, especially when I went off the rails a bit, and I wouldn’t be where I am today but for him.”

Born in the aptly-named village of Horse And Jockey in County Tipperary in 1935, FitzGerald’s professional involvement in racing spanned half a century.

He was a successful jump jockey, winning the 1965 Scottish Grand National on Brasher, before fracturing his skull in a career-ending fall the following year.

Turning his hand to training in 1969, he hit the target with only his second runner - Archer at Market Rasen - and by the 1980s, he had one of the most powerful jumping stables in Britain.

While his best season numerically was in 1986/87 when he saddled 73 winners, his best horse was Forgive’N Forget, who won the 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup, two years after landing a major gamble in the Coral Hurdle Final.

FitzGerald enjoyed six Festival success overall, including Canny Danny in the Sun Alliance Chase and Danish Flight in the Arkle, while other high-profile winners over jumps were Galway Blaze in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup and dual Scottish National hero Androma.

Renowned for his qualities as a dual-purpose handler, big-race successes among his 350 winners on the Flat included the Princess of Wales’s Stakes and the Ebor with Sapience, the Cesarewitch with Trainglot and Kayudee, and the Lincoln with Evichstar.

Former champion Pat Eddery, who rode Sapience to victory in the Ebor and Princess of Wales’s Stakes for FitzGerald, said: “He was a lovely man and I really enjoyed riding for him.

“He was a great character and great for the sport.”

Sir Peter O’Sullevan, ‘The Voice of Racing’, had horses in training with Fitzgerald for over 20 years and paid his own tribute to a man who provided him with a very special winner.

Sounds Fyne carried the O’Sullevan colours to victory at Newbury in 1997 as he called his final races from the commentary box.

“He was not only a first class and inspirational trainer but an extremely good friend. He was a splendid man to be with and was great company. He was very sympathetic and had a delightful personality altogether,” said O'Sulleven.

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