Fergal Lynch: Heartbreaking loss of young Jack rekindles memories of racing tragedies
When the news broke of the recent tragic passing of 13-year-old Jack deBromhead following a freak accident after a fall from a horse at Glenbeigh pony racing in Kerry the nation collectively pulled their children to their chest.
No parent should ever have to bury their child and the heartbreaking scenes at young Jack's funeral in the shadow of deBromhead's famous and celebrated training yard in Butlerstown Waterford left a poignant and permanent scar on the hearts of those close to the family, friends and wider community that knows and loves the deBromheads.
By all accounts Jack was a precocious talent, one tipped for the very top of the racing profession, but Henry deBromhead, his wife Heather and their daughters Mia (Jack's twin) and Georgia didn't lose a talented jockey, they lost their only son, only brother and as Mia said "the best brother ever, I got so lucky when you were born with me. I will miss your cheeky smile that made all my friends fall in love with you."
A cheeky "one of a kind child" Jack was a charismatic teenager, bubbling with personality and popular amongst young and old alike. His lovable, caring nature obvious as it was revealed he never went to bed at night without saying, “Night mum, night dad, love you.”
Those words offered comfort to Henry as he eulogised his son at last Wednesday's funeral: “Whoever you love, make sure you tell them because if something like this happens to you, something so tragic as it is, happens to you, it’s a great comfort. I’d love you all to take that away with you, we’d really appreciate it,” said Henry.
Jack's sad passing in such circumstances, doing what he loved doing most, brought to mind a couple of other tragic losses felt by the racing community in Meath over the years.
On Saturday 3rd September last Navan racecourse ran the PF 'Muff' Conlon Memorial Handicap to remember the 70th anniversary of the death of Patrick Francis Conlon, a 20-year-old apprentice jockey from Kilmessan who died when he was caught up in a nine-horse pile-up on board Timber Topper at Kilbeggan on 12th May 1952.
When aged just 14-years-old in 1946 Mutt, named after the smaller of the characters in the Mutt and Jeff cartoons, set his heart on becoming a jockey and joined Dick McCormick's yard in Kildalkey to learn his trade.
McCormick had an excellent reputation and between 1944 and '46 he trained 40 winners including saddling Lady's View to win the 1944 Phoenix Stakes and Linaria to win the 1946 Irish Oaks.
In 1949 Mutt was crowned champion apprentice after riding 35 winners at just 4st 6lbs. Some of the Kilmessan lad’s big wins came in the Royal Whip and Anglesey Stakes, the Irish Lincolnshire and Ulster Cambridgeshire, the Maher Nursery and the National Produce Stakes.
After finishing his apprenticeship with McCormick Mutt joined A Riddle Martin's yard in Kentstown Navan in February 1952, but his career lasted just a further three months as he died riding for Martin at Kilbeggan, but his reputation as probably one of the greatest apprentices ever is borne out in the fact he rode those 35 winners in 1949 from little more than 400 rides.
The second local tragedy was recalled by Noel Coogan in The Irish Field in November 2021 when he looked at the 50th anniversary of the passing of 20-year-old Kells apprentice Michael Teelin who suffered fatal injuries following a fall in the Leopardstown November Handicap on the last day of the 1971 Irish flat racing season.
At the time Teelin was champion apprentice-elect and had the title in the bag with 27 winners when he climbed on board 25/1 outsider French Tune for his boss Clem Magnier.
In the closing stages of the feature race the horse was struck from behind and Teelin was flung into the rails where he suffered terrible injury and sadly passed away in Richmond Hospital the following morning.
Teelin began his apprenticeship at the age of 15 in Athboy with Magnier and made a notable impact in 1968 when he partnered Singapation to win the Maher Nursery at the Phoenix Park, just 19 years after Mutt Conlon had won the race.
While that win was a stunning success there was an even bigger winner to come for Teelin two weeks later when he guided 100/1 shot Arctic Serenade to win the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh, carrying just 6st 7lb and standing at only 4ft 6ins.
Teelin's outstanding talents were recognised overseas and he rode his only winner in Britain in the summer of '69 when trainer Bill Elsey invited him to partner Tatjana in the Cecil Frail 3-Y-O Handicap at Haydock Park and the 100/6 outsider won the five furlong sprint.
After finishing fourth behind Christy Roche, Gabriel Curran and Michael O'Shaughnessy in the 1969 Irish apprentices' title race with nine winners Teelin improved on that tally the following year and rode 17 winners to finish second behind Roche on 24.
Teelin started 1971 with a 5lb claim and won the St Bruno Handicap at Leopardstown on board Luckally and in July at the same track he landed the Glenview Stakes with Magnier's Hobby.
On Monday 18th October Teelin rode his last winner when he drove home the Magnier trained Pinsdavuggie for a 12/1 win in a mile and 100 yard race at Galway.
Less than four weeks later, on 13th November 1971, Teelin died following the pile-up at Leopardstown. He died a champion having won the apprentice title and he was also fifth on the overall list which was headed by Johnny Roe with 82 winners.
From just 247 mounts that year the young Kells man rode 27 winners and had 48 places. Before his accident he was widely tipped for great things - just as young Jack deBromhead was before his tragic and untimely passing.