The village of Malton came to a standstill today as the historic racing centre paid its respects to Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Jimmy FitzGerald, who died last week following a long illness, aged 69.
Around 800 mourners gathered at St Mary’s Priory Church in Old Malton for the funeral of the man who sent out over 1,200 winners from his Norton Grange stables in the town.
Racing heroes, both past and present, attended the service of thanksgiving for the life of one of the most colourful and respected characters the sport has known.
FitzGerald handed over the reins of his stables to his son Tim at the end of February 2003 after a training career which included many high-profile victories, not only over jumps but on the Flat as well.
He enjoyed six Cheltenham Festival winners, while other notable successes over jumps included the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup with Galway Blaze and two Scottish Grand Nationals with Androma.
His 350 winners on the level included the Princess Of Wales’s Stakes and the Ebor with Sapience, and the Cesarewitch twice with Trainglot and Kayudee.
Kieren Fallon, who joined FitzGerald as an apprentice when he came over from his native Ireland in 1988, was in the congregation in the packed church.
FitzGerald, regarded by Fallon as “like a father figure”, was instrumental in guiding the early career of the six-times champion Flat jockey.
The 1985 Cheltenham Gold Cup, won so famously by FitzGerald’s star performer Forgive’N Forget, was also on show.
In his address, Racing Post journalist Tom O’Ryan described FitzGerald as “a giant of the turf, a training legend, a great friend to so many”.
FitzGerald had a reputation for being a “hard but fair” man who did not suffer fools gladly. He was renowned for dishing out rollickings “if frustrated by the efforts of others” and “Kieren Fallon was on the receiving end of plenty”, O’Ryan recalled.