Jimmy FitzGerald

High-achieving jockey turned racing trainer
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The Independent Online

James FitzGerald, jockey and racing trainer: born Horse and Jockey, Co Tipperary 22 May 1935; twice married (one son, two daughters); died Malton, North Yorkshire 6 October 2004.

Jimmy FitzGerald was a successful jump jockey, with 123 winners, before his career was cut short by injury. When he was forced to switch to training, in 1966, no one knew how much of a success he would be. Although regarded very much as "old school", with quite a formidable personality, FitzGerald trained more than 1,200 winners, including the 1984 and 1985 Scottish Grand National winner Androma.

His spoils included the most prestigious prize in jump racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which he won in 1985 with Forgive'N Forget, ridden by Mark Dwyer. Dwyer, now a successful sales consignor of horses, developed a high reputation as a jump jockey almost exclusively through FitzGerald's runners.

Kieren Fallon, the controversial six-times champion jockey, freely admits that, without FitzGerald, his riding career would have been doomed. "He was always there when I went off the rails. Without him, I probably wouldn't be in the game," Fallon said.

Jimmy FitzGerald was born in 1935, appropriately in the Tipperary village of Horse and Jockey. Having worked as a stable lad, leading up the 1955 Scottish Grand National winner Bar Point, FitzGerald became a successful rider. This career was ended when he suffered a fractured skull - but not before he had furthered his links with the Scottish National by riding the 1965 winner Brasher.

As a trainer, he helped develop his riders as much as his horses. Kieron Fallon's unerring ability to run into trouble and attract the wrong sort of headlines would have led many trainers to sack a jockey. But Fitzgerald always kept patience with Fallon, helping him combat a temper that would at times run out of control, by issuing heartfelt warnings that Fallon's talent was useless unless it was backed up by discipline.

Fallon was among those who benefited from FitzGerald's expertise at getting a horse ready for a gamble. There were few trainers better than him at ensuring a horse was at its absolute peak when the money was down. This involved not only an understanding of how to make sure a horse was physically at its best, but also campaigning it effectively, so that the handicapper was not always aware of its true ability.

Forgive'N Forget, before he became a high-class chaser, landed a massive gamble when winning the 1983 Coral Golden Hurdle, perhaps the most competitive meeting of the Cheltenham Festival; Trainglot also hit the bookies hard when landing the 1990 Cesarewitch on the Flat.

Another good example of FitzGerald's planning skills came when he saddled Sounds Fyne to win at Newbury in November 1997. Sounds Fyne was owned by Sir Peter O'Sullevan, the veteran BBC commentator known as the "Voice of Racing". Sounds Fyne's Newbury victory came on the day O'Sullevan commentated for the last time, after more than 50 years with the BBC.

When FitzGerald set his sights on training, he set up at Norton Grange Farm in Malton, North Yorkshire, showing a distinct lack of airs and graces by building many of the boxes himself. He was granted a training licence in 1969 and scored with only his second horse, Archer, at Market Rasen on 2 August that year.

He only quit training last year, handing over the responsibility of running Norton Grange to his son Tim, although FitzGerald senior kept a close interest in the yard.

For all his success on the Flat, FitzGerald was a jumping man at heart. When Forgive'N Forget won the Gold Cup, FitzGerald used the winning trophy a year later to celebrate his daughter Kirsty's christening. With the celebrations, though, come risks. Forgive'N Forget, having provided FitzGerald with the high point of his career, also supplied him with the lowest, when the horse died while competing for the 1988 Gold Cup, breaking his leg when travelling like the winner. Other Festival winners included Danish Flight (1988), Uncle Ernie (1997) and Canny Danny (1983). In 1985 FitzGerald also won a Hennessy Gold Cup with Galway Blaze.

Androma's first Scottish National win made FitzGerald only the second man to have ridden and trained a winner of that race. He was also responsible for the prolific Sybillin, who excelled over two miles, with wins in 1993 in the Tingle Creek Trophy and the Victor Chandler Chase.

Three years ago, towards the end of his career, FitzGerald became involved in an unfortunate confrontation with a reporter from the investigative BBC programme Panorama. When the reporter accused him of receiving "no lose" betting accounts from a bookmaker (i.e. he did not have to pay up on losers in return for passing on information), FitzGerald angrily denied this. Unfortunately, his reaction was filmed and his face was shown turning blackberry-coloured with rage. It was an unfortunate end to a career of high achievement.

Richard Griffiths

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