How the family of Jonathan Fitzpatrick are keeping his memory and legacy alive

Tragedy struck when Jonathan was killed in a car crash on August 12, 2017, at the age of 23. But his story doesn’t end there because he had left an indelible mark, and not just for the vibrancy of his personality
How the family of Jonathan Fitzpatrick are keeping his memory and legacy alive

Kilkenny-based trainer/breeder Sharon Fitzpatrick pictured at Keatingstown, just outside the city, with Coeur D’Amour. Picture Dylan Vaughan

Jonathan Fitzpatrick wanted to rule the world. He set his mind to it young and went about achieving it immediately.

While still 17, he decided he wanted to be a trainer and resolved to shadow the legendary Jim Bolger during his summer holidays. Having begged Paddy Quinlan to get him a job at Glebe House, he stopped making the journey from Keatingstown Stud, just outside Kilkenny city, to the road in Coolcullen after just six weeks, frustrated by not having become the maestro’s consigliere. So he decamped to Newmarket instead to Michael Quinlan.

This could be construed as delusion or cockiness but it wasn’t. It was a life view centred around opportunities being everywhere if you had the chutzpah to launch yourself headlong after them. Johno just did not see a reason for taking a backward step. He did not see hurdles. There would be setbacks of course but if disappointment was quickly shelved, a new goal set and attacked with trademark fervour.

Think of the audacity of hatching a plan with his friend Darragh McCarthy to purchase Norfolk Stakes winner Prince Of Lir and stand him as a stallion at home.

When his mother, Sharon pointed out to her teenage boy the insanity of the plan, due to the proliferation of mares and showjumpers at their 16-box yard, he moved on to John McEnery of Rossenarra Stud and tried to convince him, in vain, of the riches that awaited.

The fact he was 6’3” did not put him off the dream of becoming a jockey. He ran in plastic bags to shed weight in pursuance of that dream and when he was spotted doing so in Clongowes, where he boarded much to his disgust as it kept him away from the horses, he was co-opted onto the athletics squad. Such was his talent that he would medal on multiple occasions for Ireland at the Celtic Games, in, very appropriately, the steeplechase. The potential was obvious and he went along with it for a while but it didn’t fit into the life plan.

Some of his decision-making would take his parents Sharon and Joe aback, such as taking himself off to Chantilly to ride for Francois Cottin one summer at 16. Sharon says that while her son was quite like her in the sense that he wanted things done quickly and correctly, she would never have had the nerve to leave Bolger’s after just six weeks.

“He wanted to be everything in such a short space of time,” Sharon explains.

“He said, ‘This is my holidays and I want to learn to be a racehorse trainer. I’m not mucking out, I mucked out years. I know how to muck out and tack up and ride.’ And that was it.”

Tragedy struck when Jonathan was killed in a car crash on August 12, 2017, at the age of 23. But his story doesn’t end there because he had left an indelible mark, and not just for the vibrancy of his personality.

One of the young horses he bought is now a seven-year-old promising showjumper named CBI Keatingstown Victory, who is among his 21-year-old sister Susan’s team of horses that have just arrived in Spain for the Sunshine Tour.

Sir Gerhard is already worth a pretty penny. Bred at the farm by Jonathan and sold as a foal in November 2015, he was purchased by Tom Malone for £400,000 on behalf of Cheveley Park Stud three years later and is currently favourite for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March. If he roars up the hill, there will be tears but there will be joy too. And given what he did in point-to-points, the result of Jonathan’s arranged union of the Authorized mare Faanan Aldaar and Jeremy should be even better when presented with obstacles to jump.

For like his breeder it seems, clearing barriers is something to be relished.

Showjumper Susan Fitzpatrick with ‘Keatingstown Quite Chacco’ at Keatingstown House last year. Susan is making a serious impression at international level. Picture: David Fitzgerald

Showjumper Susan Fitzpatrick with ‘Keatingstown Quite Chacco’ at Keatingstown House last year. Susan is making a serious impression at international level. Picture: David Fitzgerald

Jonathan, James, Susan, and Killian were immersed in horses from the start, with Sharon a keen showjumper at amateur level and Joe dabbling in pinhooking racing youngsters. Before long, their enthusiasm forced their mother to hang up her competitive boots.

“I had a lorry full of ponies and my own horse was at home in its box,” says Sharon ruefully.

Susan is now an international class rider, a former European pony champion and multi-medallist at that sphere as well as European Junior Championship medallist, who made a big impression when winning the two-star Grand Prix at Millstreet with Fellow Castlefield in 2018. After that, they reached the World Breeding Championships final for seven-year-olds at Lanaken and were placed in a National Grand Prix.

The results kept coming, the big money offers arriving almost in tandem. Following successive Nations Cup wins with Ireland and a slew of placed finishes in five-star Grands Prix, including an emotional fourth at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS two years to the day after Jonathan died, it was clear that horse and rider had the potential for stardom. Together, they could go all the way.

Athina Onassis opened her cheque book however and Susan convinced her parents it was time to cash in. She was playing the long game. Medals don’t pay bills and don’t run a business.

“The horse’s value was increasing so much. There were very little options. Susan was going out riding him thinking she had to produce a result or it would devalue the horse. It was her first big one at that level.

“She’s prepared to take a hit for the first good one because she’s bought other ones with the money that are younger and cheaper that she can bring on, and hopefully some of them might reach that level.

“She has Keatingstown Z Wellie Two, who I own. He’s a 10-year-old now. He jumped the 1.60m Hickstead Derby and other 1.50m classes with Ger O’Neill. She’s taken him away to Spain with her. She has three very good eight-year-olds that will be going to that level, including Keatingstown Quite Chacco and Keatingstown Skorphults Joker. She has a new investor on board and has made a lot of international contacts.

“It’s all about having a replacement to step in when you sell, so you have to buy stock and bring them on and Susan has Taylor Cummins in to ride the younger horses so she can concentrate on the older ones, and at the same time we will train Taylor to bring her on to the next level as a rider.”

Susan clearly has a head on her shoulders — it must be in the DNA. Her big brother, while impatient to advance, had the smarts to put himself in learning environments. Think Bolger, Newmarket, the Irish National Stud, BBA, Coolmore Australia, Ballylinch, and Yeomanstown.

He used his sister as an excuse when he began going to the sales, though that paid dividends when Ginger Pop sold for €100,000 as a five-year-old, after being bought for €3,200.

“The first year he bought three showjumping foals. He would say he was buying them for Susan. We sold one and kept two. They are seven now. One of them, CBI Keatingstown Victory won a six-year-old final in Spain last year and is gone back there again with Susan.

“Since he died, every year we bought two foals and we breed from just the one mare because we want to concentrate on turning horses into money by producing them properly. And that’s working out really well.”

Sir Gerhard and Jamie Codd, wearing the colours of Cheveley Park stud, on his way to winning at Navan last month. Picture: Healy Racing

Sir Gerhard and Jamie Codd, wearing the colours of Cheveley Park stud, on his way to winning at Navan last month. Picture: Healy Racing

The Fitzpatricks are also breeding from two racing mares, including Adoring, who Jonathan bought from John Osborne and Johnny Murtagh.

He selected Zoffany as a suitable mate and Coeur D’Amour didn’t disappoint, winning a maiden in Joe’s colours before being well placed by Madeleine Tylicki to pick up two valuable pieces of black type for her page when finishing second and third in Listed company. She now joins her mother on breeding duties.

They have sold Sir Gerhard’s dam Faanan Aldaar to Jonathan’s friend Jimmy Callanan.

It’s absolutely wonderful to see something that Jonathan was at the start of go so well.

“He decided that the mare, Faanan Aldaar was going to Jeremy. I remember driving her down to be covered. “It was fantastic that Sir Gerhard sold well as a foal. Jonathan was so pleased. Then he went on to be sold as a store. Then he went on to win his point-to-point. It was so exciting for us even to see him win that point-to-point by 12 lengths. And then the price he made at Cheltenham was fantastic. Now he’s won his two bumpers and that last day in Navan was unbelievable.

“It is so exciting to be thinking about him going to the Champion Bumper in Cheltenham. He’s some horse.

“The horses need to be bought by the right people to give you a chance. So for Peter Molony to buy him as a foal, the Holdens to buy him as a store and get him ready to win the point-to-point and then for him to go to Gordon Elliott, was great. But we feel as if he’s ours.”

The messages arrive from far and wide every time a horse Jonathan had some connection with, or in the case of Prince Of Lir offspring, dreamt of being connected with, has success. His friends never forget and Sharon loves that, but it isn’t without its pain.

“It’s very, very hard. But also, you see everybody that did the same things he did, that went to the Irish National Stud course with him, and all his friends are being so successful. That’s great and you just know 100% he would have been too.

“He was such a good horseman, he had such a good eye and he asked advice because he wanted to learn all the time. He wanted to be the best.

People have been very kind though and always remember Jonathan. The Irish National Stud established an annual Jonathan Fitzpatrick Business Internship Award in his memory, which is sponsored by Coolmore, Yeomanstown, and Ballylinch and we present it.”

They have five racehorses in training with Andrew Kinirons, Sonny Carey, Philip Rothwell, and Tom Mullins. Jonathan rode for Mullins for five years from the age of 12 and has been entrusted with Hey Johnny.

“I had a Faanan Aldaar foal that didn’t sell, probably the most ugly looking foal, a pot-bellied foal and yearling. I decided to take him over myself, put a lot of work into him, built him up, treated him like a showjumper to tell you the truth.

“I put him on a walker, lunged him, rode him, did everything with him, and he turned into a lovely three-year-old. So we decided, after what Sir Gerhard did, to race him as he is his half-brother by Worthadd and we gave him to Tom to train. If he could run and do something, it would be great.”

Come March, all eyes will be glued on Cheltenham and Sir Gerhard, however.

“It’s fantastic for us. It helps keep the memory alive and to keep in contact with the friends.

“He left a bit of a legacy alright.”

Brexit leaving trainers in a different boat

The consequences of Brexit are already being felt by people transporting horses, and Sharon Fitzpatrick had her fill of it in the past fortnight, eventually being forced to ship Susan Fitzpatrick's team bound for Valencia by ferry to France last Wednesday, rather than the preferred route through Britain.

“It took me about five days to actually figure out, could I get through England or not, in transit.

“Every time I read another piece of paper belonging to the department in government UK, or about the Kent Pass (access permit to Dover) or the Type 2 lorry licence I’d need in England for two lorries, even though I have them for here, it was an unbelievable amount of paperwork for getting out of the country into England and then leaving again at Dover. And then there would be the big delay in Calais even if you had all your paperwork right, because all the customs checks, veterinary checks, Type 2 checks, and so on. There are delays of up to six hours on each side.

“I realised it wasn’t going to work and they’d go on the long boat.”

That brings a whole other slew of requirements, though she found “Ruth and Shane in the Department of Agriculture were actually a fantastic help”.

It wasn’t straightforward though.

“You have to put down what boat you’re leaving on but the problem is you’re on a wait list. I tried to explain I had to be confirmed to do my health list. I rang everyone and they all said the same. Everything was full for six weeks and they were looking after their regular clients, the hauliers going in week-in, week-out.

“Through Treacy’s Shipping, I got a space on Irish Ferries eventually. They would tell you three days beforehand whether they’ll take you or not. Stena don’t tell you until the morning because the captain decides whether he’s going to take horses or not, depending on the weather.”

Joe, Devon, Niamh, and the horses arrived safely before continuing the road trip to Valencia. There is, of course, a global pandemic muddying the hardly clear waters. Sharon had to organise Covid-19 testing in Saint-Lô at €50 a pop rather than prior to departure, because everyone attending the upcoming shows had to have had a negative test within 72 hours of arriving there.

Overall, it was far more expensive and time-consuming. And travelling by boat is also not the safest way to transport horses.

“You can’t have horses delayed for six hours on the port which is why we went for the boat in the end but what people might not know is that horses can’t get physically sick, so if they get seasick, they can die. They will certainly get very ill. It’s a huge risk. So my preference is to go through England because there’s less risk to the horses.

“At least I’ve done it once now, though I still don’t know how I’m going to get them back home because the ports are so busy, avoiding Dover. So we’ll see.

“There will be a corridor for breeding horses, sport horses and racehorses. There has to be.”

More in this section

Join us for a special evening of Cheltenham chat on Friday March 12 at 6.30pm with racing legend and Irish Examiner columnist Ruby Walsh, Irish Examiner racing correspondent Tommy Lyons, and former champion jockey and tv presenter Mick Fitzgerald, author of Better than Sex.

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