A rare breed: top dual-purpose jockey Martin Molony dies aged 91
Martin Molony, who died on Monday aged 91, was a rare breed of rider able to combine brilliance over jumps with huge success on the Flat.
He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Silver Fame, three Irish Classics and three Irish Grand Nationals, all packed into a career cruelly cut short by injury when he was only 26.
Molony landed six straight Irish jump jockeys' titles between 1946 – when he was joint-winner – and 1951, and finished runner-up to his brother in the British jump jockeys' table in the 1949-50 season.
Martin John Molony was born on July 20, 1925 in County Limerick and was a native of Manister.
Brother of five-time British champion jump jockey Tim, he was initially apprenticed to Martin Hartigan in Wiltshire, but had not ridden in public by the time he returned to Ireland on the outbreak of war in 1939.
Molony was quick to make a favourable impression in the saddle and, at the age of just 14, rode his first winner at the Curragh in October 1939 on the George Harris-trained Chitor. It was only his third ride in public.
After the war ended in 1945, Molony made weekly visits across the Irish Sea to spread his rides between Ireland and Britain. He did so by boat, with air travel not yet a regular means of transport.
In December 1947, his first win in Britain arrived at Sandown on Silver Fame, owned by Lord Bicester and trained by George Beeby.
A man for all seasons
Molony soon established himself as a top-class dual-purpose rider, winning the Irish Grand National three times in the space of seven years on the Cyril Harty-trained Knight's Crest (1944), Dick O'Connell's Golden View (1946) and the Tim Hyde-trained Dominick's Bar (1950).
The year after winning the race on Dominick's Bar, Molony won the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Silver Fame and the same spring landed the Irish 2,000 Guineas on Signal Box.
Signal Box was the final of his three Irish Classic winners, being preceded by Desert Drive in the 1947 Irish Oaks and Princess Trudy in the 1950 Irish 1,000 Guineas.
Molony's most prolific campaign was in 1949-50, when he rode 94 jumps winners in Ireland. That was a record that stood until broken by Charlie Swan in 1992 and was back in the days when the Irish jockeys' championship was decided on the total number of winners both on the Flat and over jumps.
Molony was in big demand during those years and rode for many big-name trainers, most notably Vincent O'Brien, while in Britain he was retained by leading jumps owner Lord Bicester.
Molony's riding career came to a premature end when on September 18, 1951 a fall from Bursary at Thurles left him close to death, with the base of his skull badly fractured.
Despite that ending his campaign early, he still managed to retain his jockeys' championship that season as he had already established a commanding lead by that stage.
Molony's involvement in racing was not over and he would continue to forge a career out of horses.
He began to take an interest in breeding, while also getting involved in buying and selling. He bought Bula, who went on to win the Champion Hurdle in 1971 and 1972, as an unbroken three-year-old for 1,380gns at the Goffs sale.
'A great all-rounder'
John Oaksey, a big fan of Molony, had this to say about the multiple-champion: "Twelve years is not long to prove yourself the greatest all-round jockey there has ever been and Martin, needless to say, never dreamt of any such outlandish claim. But plenty of perfectly rational people have made it since on his behalf."
And author Guy St John Williams says that, even half a century on, Molony is still the benchmark to which all jump jockeys are compared.
"He's what few can ever be, a great all-rounder, and as such he must be classed as one of the best in the history of the turf," he said.