'He was a rascal but everyone loved him' - former trainer Neville Callaghan dies aged 77

Neville Callaghan pictured with his son SimonCredit: CHRIS BOURCHIER

Group 1-winning trainer and colourful Newmarket character Neville Callaghan died on Saturday aged 77 after a long battle with illness.

A much-loved figure, Irish-born Callaghan trained more than 800 winners on the Flat and nearly 100 over jumps in a 38-year career before retiring in 2008.

Originally from Fermoy in County Cork, the former assistant to Ken Cundell and Bruce Hobbs is best known for training Danehill Dancer, who landed a Group 1 juvenile double in Ireland in 1995 in the Phoenix Stakes and the National Stakes in the colours of Michael Tabor. Callaghan trained for Tabor for more than 30 years, a partnership that yielded the former bookmaker's first winner as an owner with Tornado Prince in a seller at Haydock in 1975. 

He had another Group 1 winner with Fairy Heights in the Fillies' Mile at Ascot in 1993 and went closest to Classic glory when Rebel Rebel finished runner-up to Footstepsinthesand in the 2,000 Guineas in 2005.

Callaghan's first winner came with Blessed Beauty at Salisbury in 1970, and Lady Rowley gave him his first Group success in the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood in 1974.

His other Group winners included Stanford (Gimcrack Stakes, 1978), Mansooj (July Stakes, 1986), Always Valiant (July Stakes, 1988), Corrupt (Great Voltigeur, 1991), Black Amber (Prix Robert Papin, 1998) as well as the Tabor-owned Magistretti, who won the Group 2 Dante Stakes in 2003 before finishing second in both the Juddmonte International and the Arlington Million.

Callaghan, whose son Simon is now a successful trainer in California, had his final Group success when Excellent Art won the Group 2 Mill Reef Stakes in 2006.

Danehill Dancer and Pat Eddery win the Phoenix Stakes at Leopardstown
Danehill Dancer and Pat Eddery win the 1995 Phoenix Stakes at LeopardstownCredit: Pat Healy

Callaghan’s longtime friend David Elsworth said: “I heard Neville sadly passed away early on Saturday. He was in a nursing home at Kentford and I went to see him there recently at the time of the Breeders’ Cup and we talked horses. 

“He was a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde and a bit of a rascal but everyone loved him. He was always up to some kind of mischief and was a very colourful character. He loved a bet and controversy was not far behind him but for all that he was a very popular and likeable fellow."

Among those to pay tribute was former jockey Kieren Fallon, who rode many winners for Callaghan. He said: "Neville was one of the nice guys and when I started riding for Sir Michael Stoute I picked up some rides for him. He was an easy man to ride for as his preparation was tip-top and he was a great man for a touch. They're aren't many around like him anymore. It's sad he's gone but he had a great life and career and enjoyed himself."

Former Newmarket colleague Luca Cumani said: "I had plenty of bollockings off Neville during my time but the good thing was the next day it was all forgotten about. He was a nice chap and was part of Newmarket life for over 50 years."

John Gosden recalled: "Neville was one of the all-time great characters and a complete one-off."

William Haggas ended up training for Callaghan after he retired and the Somerville Lodge handler said: "Neville had a filly with me called Dubawi Dancer after he had stopped training. He enjoyed the preparation and was delighted when she won four races. He was a great character and will be sorely missed."

Stuart Williams was a neighbour of Callaghan towards the end of his career and said: "I remember being at Lingfield one day when Seb Sanders, who was an apprentice then, eased up on one of Neville's when he was ten lengths clear and got caught. I can still remember the expletives in the unsaddling enclosure now."

Callaghan enjoyed much success over jumps, including with Tabor’s Royal Derbi who finished runner-up to Granville Again in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1993. His best tally on the Flat was 40 winners in 1978, a figure he reached again in 2005. 

Callaghan leaves a widow, Jenny, son Simon and daughter Camilla.

Royal Derbi (left) jumps the last behind Granville Again in the 1993 Champion Hurdle
Royal Derbi (left) jumps the last behind Granville Again in the 1993 Champion HurdleCredit: Sporting Life


Full name Neville Anthony Callaghan

Born May 4, 1946

Assistant to Ken Cundell, Bruce Hobbs

Stables Cadland and later Rathmoy in Newmarket

First winner Blessed Beauty (ridden by Tony Murray) Salisbury, August 13, 1970

Michael Tabor's first winner Tornado Prince, seller at Haydock, May 23, 1975

Champions Royal Derbi (juvenile hurdler 1988-89), Danehill Dancer (juvenile in Ireland 1995, sire in GB & Ireland 2009)

Irish Champion Hurdle winners (Leopardstown) Royal Vulcan (1983), Royal Derbi (1993)

Champion 4-Y-O Hurdle winner (Punchestown) Royal Derbi (1989)

Group 1 winners on Flat Fairy Heights (1993 Fillies' Mile), Danehill Dancer (1995 Phoenix Stakes, National Stakes)

Other Group winners Lady Rowley (1974 Molecomb Stakes), Stanford (1978 Gimcrack Stakes), Mansooj (1986 July Stakes), Always Valiant (1988 July Stakes), Chummy's Favourite (1989 Diadem Stakes), Eton Lad (1990 Diomed Stakes), Corrupt (1991 Lingfield Derby Trial, Great Voltigeur Stakes), Freddie Lloyd (1992 Ballyogan Stakes, King George Stakes), Danehill Dancer (1996 Greenham Stakes), Black Amber (1998 Prix Robert Papin), Magistretti (2003 Dante Stakes), Barbajuan (2003 Solario Stakes), Hazyview (2005 Diomed Stakes), Excellent Art (2006 Mill Reef Stakes)

Other big-race winners over jumps Royal Vulcan (1982 Gerry Feilden Hurdle, 1983 Scottish Champion Hurdle), Royal Derbi (1991 Fighting Fifth Hurdle, Bula Hurdle)

Big-handicap winner Danetime (1997 Stewards' Cup)

Champion Hurdle runner-up Royal Derbi (1993)

Classic runner-up Rebel Rebel (2005 2,000 Guineas at 100-1)

Derby joint-favourite Corrupt (6th in 1991)

Last winner Orpen's Art, Southwell, January 10, 2008

Most wins in a season 40 in 1978 & 2005

Compiled by John Randall

David MilnesNewmarket correspondent

Published on 4 December 2023inBritain

Last updated 19:00, 4 December 2023