NO-ONE could have predicted such a tragic ending for two of racing’s brightest stars.
When Cheltenham closed its festival doors in March, Campbell Gillies and his mount Brindisi Breeze had enjoyed their finest hour of their short careers.
Their triumph, in this year’s Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle, sent the stable of Lucinda Russell wild with delight, as successes at the highest level are mostly claimed by the southerly big guns.
The best horse Russell had ever had and their fine 21-year-old jockey put on a show-stopping display to topple the favourite.
The success was meant to just be the beginning, but now we realise it was the beginning of the end. Both were enjoying their summer break, recuperating for the winter game, when tragedy struck.
On May 18 Brindisi Breeze escaped from his paddock in the early hours, killed instantly on collision with a lorry.
A day after the accident, Gillies took to Twitter to say he was “absolutely devastated” about losing the horse which gave him his biggest win, and just two weeks ago, he posted on the social networking site again saying he had watched the replay of his Cheltenham victory at his mother’s house, calling it “emotional”.
Sadly neither will repeat the victory, as we learned this week Gillies, who enjoyed his best ever season in 2011-12 with 38 winners, had died on his holiday in a Greek swimming pool.
The unforeseen death of any sportsman away from their discipline is somewhat more shocking, given that jockeys risk life and limb when they go to the track.
The 21-year-old jockey’s death, just before his birthday, reminds us how life can change in an instant, like it did for Welsh jockey Isobel Tompsett.
Her friend Rachel Griffiths, who worked with her at Bernard Llewelyn’s stable but is now assistant clerk of the course at Chepstow Racecourse, said the former female rider is still receiving treatment following a horrific fall more than a year ago.
These incidents are a stark reminder that jockeys should be appreciated for what they do but as a punter, and I am occasionally just as guilty, you are often quick to blame an ill-judged ride for a horse’s defeat.
So next time, in the aftermath of a loss, I think we should spare a thought for the torturously strict diets the men and women put themselves through and the danger, just for our five minutes of enjoyment.