The daily hazards embraced by jump jockeys instil in their community a collective fatalism, itself a spur to individual perseverance. But the loss yesterday of Campbell Gillies, in a holiday swimming pool, takes them grievously beyond the terms of this reconciliation with even the most malign professional destiny. Today should have been his 22nd birthday. Instead of celebrating, his family and friends find themselves dealing with an unaccountable bereavement.
Gillies was taken from them in an accident on the first day of a break with fellow riders in Greece. It was only in March that he had made the breakthrough that deceived him with the promise of a long and satisfying career, winning a novice hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival for his Kinross employer, Lucinda Russell. Now, by an unspeakable coincidence, he has followed his mount that day, Brindisi Breeze, to a freakish and premature demise.
A few weeks ago, Brindisi Breeze escaped from a paddock and was hit by a lorry. If Russell and her partner, Peter Scudamore, imagined themselves inconsolable then, they have had their perspectives harrowingly corrected.
It is not just decorum, either, that the expressions of shock throughout the sport were mixed with so many testimonials to Gillies' charming nature. Here was a young man exceptional not just in talent and application, but in character too. In Tony McCoy's words, Gillies was "a very good jockey but an even better bloke".
Russell posted a statement on her website. "This dreadful news has hit the whole yard," she said. "Campbell was a much loved, popular and respected member of Arlary and it is so hard to lose part of our 'family'. Our hearts go out to his mother, Lesley, brother and sister, Finlay and Rita. We are immensely proud of the achievements of Campbell.
"It was through innate ability and talent that he reached great heights as a jockey at such an early age. More than that, he had a wonderful charm that I believe came across to everyone who met him."
Russell's partner, Scudamore, had played an enthused role in Gillies' development. "His victory at Cheltenham epitomised him as a jockey – his belief and confidence, and timing," the eight-times champion said. "He became one with the horse. This empathy and love of his horses was one of the reasons he was a truly great jockey."
A graduate of the British Racing School, Gillies rode the first winner of 131 winners under Rules in May 2007, at Hexham, and subsequently forged a notable partnership with the useful Lie Forrit. Scudamore's son, Tom, testified that his father had "adored" his young protégé. "He had a lot of raw talent," Scudamore Jnr said. "But it wasn't just about his riding. He was a very popular fellow. There was never a dull moment when Campbell was around. He was the life and soul of the weighing room – a gentleman, a lovely fellow, and he'll be sorely missed."
Gillies' brother, Finlay, is a hooker with rugby's Glasgow Warriors. The club said in a statement: "The thoughts of everyone here are with Finlay and his family at this terrible time."
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