Names that stand out in Irish racing in (relatively) modern times must include Dreaper, Kinane, Moore, Morgan, Mullins, O’Brien, Prendergast, Sleator, Weld and Widger, families who have carried the torch for generations. Curiously, unlike law and medicine, racing has seldom survived as a family profession. Is that by chance, or a reflection on the financial uncertainty of that calling? Paddy Mullins was under no illusions, advising his several sons against following in his footsteps, for that very reason. Happily, they ignored his well-meant advice, allowing the rest of us to bask in reflected glory.
However, when all is balanced and brought to mind, there has been one Irish racing family that produced Irish champion jockeys, both amateur and professional down through three generations, an unique achievement. ‘Mr Tommy,’ the eldest of four riding brothers, was the first to make his mark. Three times Irish amateur champion and twice overall champion, he completed a remarkable double when riding the winners of the Grand National and the Irish Derby in the same year. While not a betting man as such, ‘Mr Tommy’ did accept a bookmaker’s offer of 1,000/1 against his completing a Grand National hat trick. Having won the first and second legs, he looked then odds-on to land the bet, only to have the judge’s decision go against him – by a head.
Harry, his brother, was four times Irish amateur champion, besides heading the overall table on two occasions. While Harry had to be content with a solitary Grand National success, he not only rode that winner but trained it as well. The Irish National proved more rewarding, providing him with two Easter Monday highlights, as it had his elder brother. Both ‘Mr Tommy’ and Harry rode winners of the Grand Steeplechase de Paris on Irish-trained raiders.
Having started rather later in life, Harry defied the march of time to the extent of riding a winner over Punchestown’s banks and walls at the age of 71. Indeed, Harry only hung up his boots on feeling that he had not done his mount justice in a flat race. He was then 83.
Younger brothers Jack and Willie also rode their share of major winners, subsequently assisting Harry in his successful stable. Sadly, Willie sustained fatal injuries in a fall at Punchestown, only for Jack to die a few years later. Their deaths resulted in Harry scaling back his training operations, no doubt disillusioned by the game.
Harry’s sons represented the next generation, his eldest son and namesake becoming Irish champion jockey before moving to England and riding classic winners on both sides of the Irish Sea. Pat, his younger brother, became Irish champion apprentice before following Harry to England. Pat also rode a brace of Irish classic winners and later became a successful trainer in the north of England. William, their brother, also rode significant winners in Ireland under both codes.
The family calling was represented in a third generation by Henry Robert ‘Bobby’, born in London to Harry and his second wife Patricia. Her sister Valerie, a film star in her own right, was married to colourful and controversial British government minister John Profumo. Bobby emulated his forebears in becoming Irish champion amateur and then Irish professional champion before moving to England. There he revived the family’s illustrious Aintree tradition when winning the Grand National on the grey Nicolaus Silver. Bobby thus completed a rare nap hand of the top three National Hunt prizes, for he had won the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1959 on Roddy Owen, trained on the Curragh by Danny Morgan. In the meantime he had carried off the Champion Hurdle on Another Flash, trained in Grangecon by Paddy Sleator.
Brought up by his teetotal father, Harry, Bobby was in his late 20s before he tasted alcohol. It brought not just his riding career but his family life to ruin.
Living a hermit’s life on his small-holding in Wexford, Bobby was befriended by Nicky Rackard, who knew the perils of alcohol only too well. Bobby’s rehabilitation as a jockey seemed set to remain low-key until Pat Taaffe, another Irish racing legend as the rider of Arkle, consulted Paddy Sleator as to who he would recommend to ride his talented tearaway, Captain Christy. To his eternal credit Paddy proposed Bobby. The partnership clicked, winning the Sweeps Hurdle. Two years later Bobby enjoyed Cheltenham Gold Cup triumph after a 15-year interval when Captain Christy survived a last-fence blunder to emulate Roddy Owen.
Beasley’s the name.