Obituary: Jack O'Donoghue

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The Independent Culture
AS WELL as being the oldest licensed trainer in Britain until his retirement in 1996, Jack O'Donoghue's other distinction during a career spanning half a century was to send out the 1951 Grand National winner Nickel Coin.

The mare was one of only two of the 36 National hopefuls to complete the course, having been bought for just pounds 50 at the sales at a time when O'Donoghue claimed it was "too dark to see what I was buying".

The race itself was ruined by a shambolic start, which caused 12 horses to crash out at the first fence. Having had only one rival since Becher's Brook on the second circuit of the race, Nickel Coin and her jockey Johnny Bullock seized the initiative when Royal Tan, trained by the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O'Brien and ridden in the National by his brother Phonsie, made a bad mistake at the last.

If luck played its part in giving him victory in a race that every single National Hunt trainer aspires to win, few would have begrudged it to O'Donoghue.

He was born in Fermoy, Co Cork, the eldest of six children, and arrived in England by motorbike, aged 22, in 1929. After a spell riding in point- to-points - an activity he pursued until he was 54 - O'Donoghue started training in 1934, first at Leigh and winding up at the Priory Racing Stables in Reigate, Surrey, in 1947. Incredibly, that remained his base until 1996.

The move to Reigate came a year after training his first winner, the novice hurdler Arbitration, at Fontwell in 1946.

A softly spoken, unassuming man, O'Donoghue was regarded as lacking the fierce ambition of many trainers. No one, however, could match his pride in being asked to train for the Queen Mother. His horses for her included Gay Record, who was successful in nine races and gave the Queen Mother her 100th winner at Folkestone in 1964.

He also trained another talented chaser for the royal owner in Sunbridge - who, according to his jockey, Lord Oaksey, might well have won the 1964 National Hunt Chase at the Cheltenham Festival had the partnership not hit the front too soon.

Another proud moment for O'Donoghue came in 1953 when the victory of Air Wedding gave Fred Winter his 100th success of the season, the first time a jump jockey had reached the three-figure mark.

Although be failed to reach the equivalent heights of success with his runners on the Flat, O'Donoghue trained a talented sprinter in Indigenous, who set a world record for five furlongs after leaving the stable, and the 1994 Portland Handicap winner Hello Mister.

Jack O'Donoghue, racehorse trainer: born Fermoy, Co Cork 20 July 1907; married (two sons, one daughter, and one son deceased); died Dorking, Surrey 16 October 1998.