'He left a great legacy behind' - the tragic tale of Sir Gerhard's young breeder
James Thomas meets friends and family of the much-missed Jonathan Fitzpatrick
This interview is available free as a sample. To read more great interviews from our award-winning team of journalists, including the Bloodstock Big Read, join Members' Club Ultimate here. Members can also read tipping from the likes of Pricewise and Paul Kealy, all the big interviews and features, daily comment and news analysis - plus our Ultimate Daily and Front Runner emails.
Sir Gerhard's brilliance burned brightly in this year's Champion Bumper, with his pillar-to-post performance not only brimming with latent talent but promising much for the future. Indeed, the unbeaten son of Jeremy is already a deserving favourite for next year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
There is, however, a deeply poignant subplot to the story as the six-year-old's breeder, Jonathan Fitzpatrick, a young man who showed his own abundance of skill and potential, was not around to witness the piece of Cheltenham Festival history he helped create.
Fitzpatrick was just 23 when his life came to a tragic and premature end in a car crash on August 12, 2017. In Sir Gerhard, he has left behind a horse who embodies so many of the qualities and characteristics that made him such a much-loved individual.
The success was evidently an emotional one for Fitzpatrick's family, who run Keatingstown House Stud in County Kilkenny, although it is with some humour that Jonathan's mother, Sharon, recalls watching the Champion Bumper, as a technical glitch meant they ended up huddled around a mobile phone.
"We were watching at home but the internet went on the television so we ended up having to watch it on a phone!" she says. "It wasn't ideal but we managed. We've watched the replay a few times since too, it was great.
"We've all been following the horse and I know a lot of Jonathan's friends have too. There's been a huge amount of people from all over the world wishing us their best each time the horse runs, they've given us some great support."
Although the Fitzpatrick family is heavily involved in the showjumping world, with Jonathan's younger sister Susan a decorated rider who has 16 horses of her own in work, he found himself drawn towards racehorses from an early age, and his mother recounts how, with some dismay, she would find her son heading to hunter trials with a racing saddle under his arm.
His first hands-on experience with racehorses came as a result of his close friendship with David Mullins, which led to many a weekend and school holiday being spent at the stable of Mullins' father, Tom, in Goresbridge.
"We were at pony club together when he was around 12 and I was ten," says David Mullins. "He was really interested in the racing side of things, even at that age, and wanted to come and see the horses at my father's. He was always watching racing whenever he could and even then he knew more about sires than I think most people double his age did."
Like so many young men and women who have been bitten by the racing bug, Jonathan harboured dreams of becoming a jockey during his teenage years, until nature intervened.
"He used to ride out at my father's, even though he was about six foot four!" says Mullins. "He never had a dream of winning a Gold Cup, but he told me one day I'd win a Gold Cup and he'd win the Foxhunters the race after. Thanks to Sir Gerhard, he's after getting his Cheltenham winner before I did."
Once it became clear he wasn't destined for a career in the saddle, the weighing room's loss was the bloodstock industry's gain as Jonathan set about immersing himself in the breeding world. This included spells working at some of Ireland's most well-known breeding establishments.
"He was like an encyclopedia of pedigrees and horses," says his mother. "He had a huge interest in breeding and performance, he just had an amazing capacity for knowledge about horses.
"He picked up a lot of information along the way when he worked at places like Coolmore, the Irish National Stud and Ballylinch, and he would have picked the brains of everybody he worked with. He always wanted to work at the best places and learn the best ways of doing things."
It was during his time at Coolmore that Jonathan first met Jack Tuohy, someone who became not only a close friend but a key ally as the pair set about making their way in the bloodstock industry.
"We were at Coolmore as students for the breeding season and we hit it off right away," says Tuohy. "We went down to Coolmore Australia together, that was a brilliant experience and he definitely had quite the fan base there. He was one of the youngest people on the farm but he left a good mark down there."
Prior to Jonathan's trip to Australia, his family had purchased a three-year-old Authorized filly named Faanan Aldaar with trainer Philip Rothwell. She landed a Roscommon maiden hurdle during her time on the track but has since found much greater fame as the dam of Sir Gerhard.
"We raced her a couple of times before she got injured and was retired to stud to breed from," says Sharon. "It was Jonathan who chose Jeremy, we didn't interfere with what he wanted to do, he knew more than we did."
Tuohy recalls the early conversations he had with Jonathan while he was still deciding on the mating that ultimately resulted in Sir Gerhard.
He says: "It's a funny story actually. We were down in Coolmore Australia and when I came out of the gym one night Jonathan was there on the couch, bottle of beer in hand, and said he was going to cover his Authorized mare.
"He said he couldn't decide whether to keep her on the Flat or to send her to a National Hunt sire. But he'd already done a season of foal prep with the National Stud and was going back there to do the breeding course, so I said he should go dual purpose, and as he was going to the National Stud I was sure they'd look after him with Jeremy.
"He was humming and hawing about even covering her for a bit, but the more he looked into it the more he liked the idea of Jeremy."
On March 5, 2015, Sir Gerhard was foaled at the Irish National Stud, and the following November Jonathan, with Tuohy's help, offered the colt as part of Keatingstown House Stud's debut draft at the Goffs foal sale.
It could perhaps be taken as a sign of what was to come for Jonathan that his first consignment of foals included not only a Champion Bumper hero, who was bought by Peter Molony's Rathmore Stud for €17,000, but the Listed-placed Zoffany filly Coeur D'Amour and Creek Harbour, a five-time winner who went on to top Book 3 of the Tattersalls October Yearling Sale at 200,000gns for Ballyhimikin Stud, having been a €25,000 pinhook by James Hanly.
"That's quite the draft for three homebreds!" says Tuohy. "Sadly that didn't quite come to fruition until he'd died, so it's only now that you realise how advanced he was for his age. He's always in my thoughts, especially at the sales."
Of the trio, only Coeur D'Amour failed to change hands, although with hindsight nobody is rueing that particular outcome, as not only did the filly land a Galway maiden and gain two pieces of black type in the Fitzpatrick silks, but she is now helping to continue Jonathan's legacy from the Keatingstown House broodmare band.
"We're still breeding from two mares Jonathan was involved in, Adoring and her daughter Coeur D'Amour," says Sharon. "The mother is going to Kodiac this year and Coeur D'amour will hopefully be in foal to Mehmas soon.
"Adoring belonged to John Osborne of the National Stud and Johnny Murtagh, they decided to sell the mare and Jonathan knew her from his time at the stud. He really wanted her, he was always very determined in what he wanted, so he went to the sales and got her."
Faanan Aldaar has since been moved on, but hasn't fallen too far from the Fitzpatrick fold having been taken on by another of Jonathan's close friends.
Sharon explains: "When Jonathan died we decided we'd get out of the National Hunt side and stay with the Flat. A very good friend of his here in Kilkenny, James Callanan, said that if we were selling anything he'd love to have one of Jonathan's mares. I knew Jonathan would love James to have Faanan Aldaar, so that's who's got her now."
When talking to those who knew Jonathan best, relentless determination and boundless ambition are traits that come up time and time again.
"I've no doubt that with the work ethic he had, with his determination and drive, he would have been one of the best in the business," Sharon says proudly. "All he wanted to do in life was win and to be the best. He would have been so delighted and proud to see Sir Gerhard win at Cheltenham."
There are, of course, many talented horsemen in the bloodstock industry, but Jonathan not only possessed a great affinity for the thoroughbred but for the people who make the business tick too. He had a group of friends that spanned the globe, and Mullins says Jonathan held an industry contact list that would be the envy of most.
"There were no airs and graces about him and he just loved his horses," says Mullins. "He was friendly and outgoing and made a lot of contacts in racing and showjumping.
"He hadn't met my father in a few years while he was doing the National Stud course, but when he saw him at the sales my father said couldn't believe Jonathan's knowledge of the sales, and he's someone who's been at the game a long time."
Jonathan's ability to bring people together was also central to the genesis of the Capital Bloodstock syndicate, of which Tuohy is a partner. The outfit is standing its first stallion, Hunting Horn, at Castlefield Stud this season.
Entering the stallion business was a long-held ambition of Jonathan's, a fact illustrated by his audacious plan to buy and stand Prince Of Lir at Keatingstown House when he was just 17. Although the answer from his mother was a resounding "no way" on that occasion, Tuohy says he is certain Jonathan would have had a major part to play in Hunting Horn's second career.
"He had great plans of getting into the stallion trade," he says. "He'd have put everything into it too. Everybody has dreams, but you've got to have the get up and go to try and execute them and Jonathan had that in abundance. He was never afraid to make a mistake, and if he did he'd always learn from it.
"I wouldn't know Ger O'Neill or Darragh McCarthy [Capital Bloodstock] but for Jonathan, so he left more legacies behind him than he ever knew about. We want to have four or five horses here in the next few years, but it's all because of Jonathan that we're doing it. It was his brainchild and a huge amount of what we do is most certainly a tribute to him, and will be going forward."
Breeding racehorses is a pursuit built on chasing dreams, so it rates the ultimate tragedy that Jonathan was taken before he could see his own come to fruition. But, just as the horse he bred bounded up the gruelling Cheltenham hill, we can be certain that Jonathan was in the midst of his own rapid ascent.
"You can't get into breeding racehorses at 23 and expect it to be your career but he wanted nothing else really," says Mullins. "To breed a winner at Cheltenham is fantastic, and as someone who took a lot of pride in their work, I'd imagine he'd be over the moon with it.
"I was with the Fitzpatricks when Sir Gerhard won and I've never seen scenes like it, seeing the joy they got out of it was very poignant. My grandmother bred Kilcruit actually and I thought nothing could beat him, but when Sir Gerhard did it was just brilliant."
Tuohy adds of that Cheltenham triumph: "It was unbelievable but bittersweet too. It was very emotional for everyone who was there, there was a big lump in my throat, but it couldn't have been better than watching the race with his parents. Please God we'll be doing the same next year."
There is no telling how far Jonathan would have gone in the bloodstock world and beyond, but the abundance of personality and masses of talent that those closest to him speak of are evidence of a life lived to the fullest.
"People really loved him and I didn't realise he had so many friends until his funeral," says Sharon. "It's a very sad thing to lose a child, but he's left a great legacy."
To continue to read our premium features including the Bloodstock Big Read, join Members' Club Ultimate here. Members can read the first Bloodstock Big Read here: