Lord Oaksey: Jockey who became a much admired broadcaster


Lord John Oaksey was a broadcaster and former jockey who was a familiar figure in horse racing commentary on television and radio over three decades. But perhaps his most enduring contribution to horse racing is the creation of the Injured Jockey Fund (IJF), a charity that has helped over 1,000 jockeys since its establishment and of which he latterly served as President.

John Oaksey, as he preferred to be called, was born John Geoffrey Tristram Lawrence, the 4th Baron Trevethin and 2nd Baron Oaksey, in 1929. His father, Geoffrey Lawrence, was a former Lord Justice of Appeal who led the British judicial delegation to the Nuremberg trials, which Oaksey attended at the age of 16. He was educated at Eton College, where he captained the boxing team, and read PPE at New College, Oxford.

He had initially planned to study law at Yale but then told his family that he wanted to follow his passion for horses, to become a jockey and racing correspondent. His father replied, "If you can find someone who'll pay you to do something you really enjoy then don't let them out of your sight."

Oaksey rode over 200 winners during his career as a jockey. His first victory was in a hunter chase at Sandown Park in March 1956. Oaksey won the Hennessy Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 1958 on Taxidermist and was beaten by a quarter of a length to second position on Carrickbeg at the 1963 Grand National at Aintree, one of the 11 Nationals in which he competed.

Immediately after that race he rushed to a telephone to file his copy for the Sunday Telegraph. The resulting article was later described by commentator Brough Scott as "...the best first-hand piece of reporting I have ever read." Breathlessly recalling the approach of the winning horse, Oaksey's article ran: "Hard as I strove to pull him together, the last dreg of his stamina – and mine – had drained away. It still seemed possible, but then Ayala's head appeared at my knee..."

In late 1963 the jockey Tim Brookshaw suffered a fall at Aintree, paralysing him. Then Paddy Farrell (obituary, 27 November 1999) fell at the Grand National a few months later. During the mid-1960s insurance for jockeys was difficult to obtain and even less easy to make a claim. Oaksey decided to create the Farrell-Brookshaw fund to help the two injured men, whose racing careers were now over.

Farrell's friend Jack Berry said, "When he got hurt on Border Flight in 1964, he had a wife and four young kids, so we went to Wetherby collecting with buckets. That was the nucleus of the Injured Jockeys' Fund... It was tragic it happened to Paddy but it was a good thing for the jockeys that followed. Good came out of bad."

The initial collections from the public and corporate sponsors raised £50,000. During the charity's first meeting at Claridges in April 1964, trustee and horse-breeder Clifford Nicholson, noted that "...both Farrell and Brookshaw had expressed the hope that other injured jockeys as well as themselves might be considered for help." The charity soon became the Injured National Hunt Jockeys Fund, changing later to simply the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF). The charity's rehabilitation centre, named Oaksey House in honour of its founder, now provides facilities to help speed the recovery of riders following accidents.

In 1969 Oaksey joined the ITV Seven section of World of Sport as a racing commentator, alongside John Rickman and Ken Butler. He retired from broadcasting in the late 1990s but continued to write for the Daily Telegraph. His autobiography Mince Pie for Starters (2003), introduced by Dick Francis, tells many amusing anecdotes from his lively career. Stoker Hartington, reviewing the book in the Spectator wrote: "John Oaksey is the archtypal English gentleman. He is a sweetheart, a star, the bravest of the brave, funny and kind... I loved this charming book."

He was appointed OBE in 1985 and in 2008 received the Sir Peter O'Sullevan Award for his services to racing. His horse, Carruthers, trained by his son-in-law Mark Bradstock, won last year's Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, 53 years after Oaksey's own win in the same race.

The Chief Executive of the IJF, Lisa Hancock, said: "The IJF is probably his greatest legacy... He was very proud of his involvement... He started it all at the IJF and obviously he is a great loss for us and the sport. He was a fantastic man and we all feel very proud to be part of what he started and to be continuing his work in the future."

Marcus Williamson

John Geoffrey Tristram Lawrence, 4th Baron Trevethin and 2nd Baron Oaksey (John Oaksey), jockey, journalist and broadcaster: born London 21 March 1929; OBE 1985; married 1959 Victoria Dennistoun (divorced 1987; one son, one daughter); 1988 Chicky Crocker; died Oaksey, Wiltshire 5 September 2012.