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We’re humans first, regardless of what we do for a living

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We’re humans first, regardless of what we do for a living

This job teaches you to prepare for the unexpected- and also teaches you to remember we are all human beings first and whatever we do for a living second.

All had seemed set fair on Tuesday morning as, having negotiated the monster that is the M25 I turned down the A3 towards Goodwood and, with an hour or so in hand, decided to pull off the road for a coffee.

Just as I pulled into the Car Park my mobile rang. It was a phone call that stunned me as it brought news that top Irish Amateur Jockey John Thomas McNamara had passed away at the age of just 41.

It was three and a bit years ago that, unusually I found myself watching a race at the Cheltenham Festival from the weighing room steps rather than my usual high up gantry. There had been late running order changes, and the race was the Kim Muir Chase for Amateur Riders.

There was an early faller- Galaxy Rock- but like those around me- I thought nothing of it until the field were waved round the fence next time round, did I realise it might be more serious.

Within hours the arrival of the Air Ambulance and the look on the medics and jockeys faces said it all- it was much much more serious.

It was the fall that left John Thomas, one of the greatest Amateur Riders in racing history paralysed from the neck down.

The McNamara story is one of courage and fortitude that lesser mortals like I have only been able to watch and admire- the determination to get back to his County Limerick home, to make the most of the gifts of his three wonderful children and his wife Caroline, who has won the hearts and admiration of us all by somehow clinging to the positive against odds of almost Everestian proportions. It has also featured a Racing Community looking after one of their own- an extraordinary fund raising race day at Limerick where Walsh and McCoy met Murtagh and Smullen and there was almost a fight amongst the British jockeys for seats on the plane- everyone wanted to be part of it.

The John Thomas I knew was as decent, likeable and warm as any of the countless Irish jockeys it has been my pleasure to work with and count as cherished friends.

But he was different- he was an amateur- he was in racing for the love of it- no retainer, but the same risks- no income but the same passion and affinity to a horse with a large dollop of steely determination  that made him a Champion.

He and horses were made for each other.

You could have heard a pin drop as 15000 racegoers joined in a minutes silence in his memory at Galway on Tuesday. His loss, especially after the battles of the last three years has affected every single person in a sport he loved and which loved him.

He leaves a wife for whom sainthood would almost be a fitting reward, three young children of which he was so proud and a sport united in sorrow at his passing and for ever grateful for the memories.

And for people like me to remember that whoever you deal with in this wonderful career, they are first and foremost human beings.

Reqiescat in Pace John Thomas-and thanks for allowing me to be a friend.


By Mike Vince