Obituary : Aubrey Brabazon

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The Independent Online
Aubrey's up, the money's down / The frightened bookies quake, / Come on, me lads, and give a cheer / Begod 'tis Cottage Rake! Immortalised in the famous Irish anthem to the Cheltenham Festival, Aubrey Brabazon was one of the outstanding riders of his and any generation, winning top races in the arenas of both Flat and National Hunt racing.

He was one of only six men to have won the two prestigious Cheltenham events - the Champion Hurdle and the Gold Cup - in the same season.

He was regarded as a supremely stylish jockey, something he demonstrated with three successive Gold Cup victories on Cottage Rake (between 1948 and 1950) and two on Champion Hurdler Hatton's Grace (1949 and 1950), both for the legendary Irish trainer Vincent O'Brien.

It is easy for someone far from free of vices during his or her lifetime to resemble a saint when it comes to their obituary. With Brabazon, the verdict is that he was genuinely good and popular. Affectionately known as "the Brab", just as his most famous equine partner was known as "the Rake", he was once described as a "friend to all, a man who knows everyone in Ireland". One of his proudest moments out of the saddle came when Jammets, the famous, now-defunct French restaurant in Dublin, named a cocktail after him.

Although he was undoubtedly elegant in the saddle, there was something of a bucaneer side to Brabazon as a jockey. Not many riders are captured with a grin on their face as he was when he jumped the last fence on Cottage Rake on their way to their third Gold Cup victory. (He had spent the build- up to Cottage Rake's first Gold Cup in the bar at Cheltenham sharing a brandy with O'Brien.) And not many jockeys, after falling in the Grand National, would lie on a stretcher, wrapped in a blanket and being tended by two worried-looking people, with a spirits bottle in his mouth and a cigarette in his left hand. Yet that was exactly the Brabazon response to falling from Luan Casca at Becher's Brook in the 1947 National.

He was once slated in an Irish newspaper for dropping his hands too soon and getting beaten on an odds-on favourite. "Brabazon Caught Napping" was the headline, which prompted O'Brien to respond, "If so, it was the only sleep poor Aubrey got all week."

Brabazon was born into a racing family - his father Cecil ran a powerful yard of Flat and jumps horses on The Curragh in County Kildare. Aubrey had his first ride at the age of 13, and was apprenticed to his father at 14. His first of 406 winners in Ireland came a year later, in 1935, when he partnered Queen Christina at Phoenix Park.

In 1946 he shared the Irish jockeys' championship with his friend and rival Martin Molony with 30 wins each. At this time there was only one championship for which both Flat and jumps victories counted.

On the Flat, Brabazon was top-class, winning two Irish Classics, with the Aga Khan's 1948 Irish Oaks winner Masaka and Mighty Ocean in the 1950 Irish 2,000 Guineas. Only a broken arm, suffered in a fall from Cottage Rake, prevented him from riding the Irish Derby winner Chamour, a horse who was accused, falsely, of being doped and sensationally cost O'Brien his licence for a while.

But it was his relationship with O'Brien - for whom he acted as usher when O'Brien married his wife Jacqueline - and his brilliant jumps horses that Brabazon earned his reputation. He even rode O'Brien's first steeplechase winner, Panay, in June 1945. Not only was he regarded as supremely stylish, he was ice-cool in a race and rarely resorted to use of the whip. O'Brien said of him: "Aubrey is a really brilliant jockey, especially on the big occasion. Good hands and an understanding of the horse are far better than booting . . . it is not necessary to boot (i.e. urge a horse into a fence, using the feet to kick into a horse's girth to spur him on)."

Brabazon's brilliant race temperament was nowhere better demonstrated than at Cheltenham, 1948, when Cottage Rake won his first Gold Cup. Martin Molony on the better fancied runner, Happy Home, was trying to unsettle Cottage Rake as he approached the last by spurring his mount into action.

Brabazon would not be drawn into a premature battle. In the days when there were no race commentaries, O'Brien had watched this race from the final fence. Seeing Happy Home jump the last with a clear advantage, he assumed as he trudged back to the unsaddling enclosure that there was no way Brabazon and Cottage Rake could have closed the deficit.

He was wrong. Brabazon became renowned for approaching the last fence behind the leaders. His ability to "see a stride" as a horse was approaching an obstacle, meant his horses would frequently be tucked in behind the leaders at crucial stages of a race, simply waiting to pounce with a decisive late strike.

After he retired from the saddle, Brabazon trained with a degree of success, winning races such as the Ulster Derby, Ulster National and Hennessy Handicap. He was also a former director of Curragh Bloodstock Agency and in 1983 was made an honorary member of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee.

Aubrey Brabazon, racehorse trainer and jockey: born The Curragh, County Kildare 7 January 1920; married Ethne Dwyer 1948 (four sons, three daughters); died The Curragh, County Kildare 30 September 1996.