Tributes pour in for legendary jockey McGrath

by Aaron Dunne
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Legendary Dublin Flat jockey George McGrath passed away at his family home in Lucan last week at the age of 79.

Best known for his Irish Derby win aboard Weavers’ Hall in 1973, he was a two-time Irish champion Flat jockey, was described as a “top-class rider” and “brilliant character”.

Associated always with his fruitful association with leading trainer Seamus McGrath, he also served as a starter in the UAE for several years after retiring from race-riding.

There were further Classic victories in the Irish 2,000 Guineas with Furry Glen (1974) and the legendary Sadler’s Wells (1984), and he won the 1970 Irish St Leger on Allangrange and recorded a Royal Ascot winner with the Paddy Prendergast Jr-trained Cooliney Prince in the 1980 Windsor Castle Stakes.

McGrath also won four races on the brilliant Levmoss, including the Leopardstown November Handicap in 1968 and Leinster Handicap at the Curragh in September 1969 when the horse carried 10st 10lb in an astonishing prep race for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Trainer and former jockey Jimmy Coogan has fond memories of riding against the 1965 and 1970 champion jockey, as well as spending time with him while travelling to meetings.

“George was one of the good guys, you couldn’t say a bad word about him,” said Coogan.

“When I was an apprentice he would have been one of the more senior riders, but I rode with him plenty and was in his company many times as we travelled to meetings together. He always had a kind word, as well as being a top-class rider.”

Coogan added: “He was the first jockey I saw riding acey-deucy, with one iron up and the other down. That was his style, but he was very polished. He was a very nice man and good company.”

McGrath served his apprenticeship with Meath trainer Kevin Kerr, quickly making an impact when registering eight winners from just 39 rides in 1960. He was crowned champion apprentice twice, in 1961 and 1962.

During his time with Seamus McGrath, no relation, his big-race victories also came with quality performers such as Ballad Rock and Bog Road. The pair combined to win the 1971 Phoenix Stakes with Celtic Twilight and 1974 National Stakes with Reap The Wind.

McGrath later developed an association with Vincent O’Brien in the early 1980s, leading to his final Classic success aboard Sadler’s Wells at the Curragh. He also won the Joe McGrath Memorial Stakes – now known as the Irish Champion Stakes – for O’Brien on Gregorian in 1980.

Friend and former rider Benji Coogan said: “George was an extremely strong rider who could do it all. We spent an awful lot of time together and have a lot of great memories. He was a brilliant character.”

Survived by wife Aillie, McGrath had three children, Jo-Anna, Julie and George, who serves as chief executive of the National Association of Racing Staff in Britain.

  • Born January 28, 1943, he was apprenticed to Kevin Kerr, Summerseat, Clonee, Co. Meath 1958-63. First winner Restore, Baldoyle, June 6, 1960
  • First big-race winner Royal Buck (1961 Hennessy Handicap)
  • Best wins on Levmoss 1968 Finglas Stakes, Leopardstown November Handicap, 1969 Leinster Handicap under 10st 10lb
  • Best wins on Sadler’s Wells 1984 Derby Trial (Leopardstown), Irish 2,000 Guineas
  • Irish Derby winner Weavers’ Hall (1973 at 33-1)
  • Irish 2,000 Guineas winners Furry Glen (1974), Sadler’s Wells (1984)
  • Irish St Leger winner Allangrange (1970)
  • Joe McGrath Memorial Stakes winner Gregorian (1980)
  • Ballymoss Stakes winners Glenrowan (1964), Bog Road (1974)
  • Pretty Polly Stakes winner Messene (1965)
  • Phoenix Stakes winners Irish Chorus (1962), Celtic Twilight (1971)
  • Irish Classic wins 4
  • Champion apprentice 1961, 1962
  • Champion jockey 1965, 1970

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