Cheltenham Festival: Fears for J T McNamara's future after operation on neck

Calls for faster medical response as Irish rider has surgery following his fall on Thursday

Cheltenham remained a subdued carnival as Irish amateur J T McNamara underwent surgery on the neck he broke in a fall on Thursday.

McNamara’s wife Caroline flew into Bristol from Limerick yesterday morning, accompanied by her brother, and was present at Frenchay Hospital when the jockey went into theatre for an operation on the two vertebrae he fractured.

The gravity of the incident darkened the party atmosphere, reminding the race going community of the perils involved for horse and rider. After his own horse, At Fishers Cross, won the Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle yesterday, racing tycoon J P McManus spoke for all in expressing his sympathy.

“It’s always nice to have a winner in Cheltenham, it’s nice to have runners here,” he said. “[But] the day is marred with sadness for J T and what he and his family are going through. We are here but we feel guilty, we feel we should be doing something for him. I just wish we could.”

Ted Walsh, father of Ruby, believes that McNamara and the jockeys were compromised by the treatment given to Matuhi, a fatal faller in the previous race, and the subsequent decision to miss out the first fence. “It took them a long time to decide to put the horse down or save him. Now I’m all for the welfare of horses but you lose track a little bit of things here. Human beings are more important. When you start putting animals in front of human beings there’s something wrong.

“By missing the first fence and galloping all around to the second, it only adds to the momentum and horses get revved up and go quicker. Animals are animals. John Thomas McNamara is knocked out. He’s a wife and three small kids. It’s life-changing. It’s hopefully not as bad as we all think. There’s a hullabaloo if a horse gets killed. Nobody wants to see a horse injured but, my God, this is human beings. The kindest thing to do with an animal in trouble is put him down but that seems to be taboo here.”

A spokesman for the course responded: “The safety of the riders is uppermost. We categorically refute any suggestion the welfare of the horse is put before that of the jockey.”

A second Irish jockey, Davy Russell, was also hospitalised with a punctured lung after falling from Un Beau Matin on Wednesday.  He was kicked on the floor and had his lung drained on Thursday.