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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

TP Burns: much-loved Classic-winning jockey and top-class rider over hurdles

TP Burns: professional integrity and unfailing modesty
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TP Burns was one of the foremost Irish jockeys of the 20th century.

On account of many factors, including the length of his career and his status as a Classic-winning jockey who was also a top-class rider over hurdles – but perhaps chiefly because of his professional integrity and unfailing modesty – he was a lastingly popular figure.

Universally known by his initials, to distinguish him from his father Tommy 'the Scotchman' Burns, Thomas Pascal Burns was a brilliantly versatile rider in the manner of his contemporary Martin Molony.

Unlike Molony, whose career was cruelly cut short by serious injury, Burns spent the best part of 40 years in the saddle. He topped the combined Flat and jumps list in Ireland on three occasions, in 1954, 1955, and 1957.

Burns enjoyed his greatest days in association with Vincent O'Brien, a link that provided full rein to his versatility as a rider. The pair were the saviour for patriotic Cheltenham Festival punters on many occasions during the mid-1950s, the rider's coolness under pressure much valued by O'Brien, who maintained the link as the emphasis at Ballydoyle switched to the Flat.

The John McShain-owned Ballymoss was the most significant performer during this evolutionary period and Burns rode him to win the Irish Derby in 1957 after finishing second to Crepello at Epsom. A few months later he was aboard again when Ballymoss became the first Irish-trained winner of the St Leger and O'Brien's first British Classic winner. 

Burns lands the 1957 for Vincent O'Brien on Ballymoss
'The Scotchman' was a colourful character, a top-class jockey and later an astute trainer with a flair for gambling and a taste for high living. A polar opposite to TP in character, he laid the foundations for the son's life in racing by arranging his apprenticeship with his friend and rival Steve Donoghue, the ten-time British champion.

When racing was scaled back during World War II, Burns returned to Ireland having acquired valuable experience. He was already recognised as an excellent work-rider, entrusted with the mount on the lead horse in the final gallop for the French-trained Djebel, who was stabled with Donoghue prior to his victory in the 2,000 Guineas in 1940.

Aged 14 when his riding first winner on Prudent Rose at the Irish Derby meeting in 1938, Burns enjoyed his first big-race success on the Joe Dawson-trained Mill Boy in the 1941 Irish Cambridgeshire.

After his successes on Ballymoss, he was aboard the Ballydoyle trainer's first Irish 2,000 Guineas winner, El Toro, in 1959. In the same year he also rode the year's most valuable winner outside the five Classics, partnering Gigi in the Phoenix Stakes for Dick McCormick.

In a foretaste of a subsequent association with Rosewell House, he rode Coniston to win the Carroll Hurdle for Charlie Weld in 1961. The Dundalk event was the most valuable hurdle race run in Ireland that year.

Burns rode a number of important winners for Paddy Prendergast, notably Prominer in the 1964 National Stakes and the same horse in the Player's Navy Cut Trial at Phoenix Park in 1965.

He rode his second Irish 2,000 Guineas winner on Paveh for David Ainsworth in 1966. In the same year he won the Beresford Stakes on the Paddy Murphy-trained Sovereign Slipper.

Burns, pictured on his 90th birthday, topped the combined Flat and jumps list in Ireland on three occasions
In 1972, by now his late 40s, he proved his durability with an Irish St Leger victory on the enigmatic Pidget for Kevin Prendergast.

On retiring from race-riding Burns assisted O'Brien during a star-studded period before joining Dermot Weld's backroom team. At the age of 65 he made a once-off return to the saddle in a trainers' race at Punchestown in July 1989. Weld provided the mount on Old Man River, who justified even-money favouritism with an eight-length win.

Burns 'retired' officially in 1994, only to spend the next decade and a half assisting his son James, who continued the family tradition.

He suffered from Alzheimer's in latter years, but never lost the spirit that made him a wholehearted competitor in the saddle.

He continued to be a familiar figure at the races, visibly enjoying a proximity to horses and racing folk, a life he loved from childhood and to which he contributed so much in his understated way.

Cheltenham success with Vincent O'Brien

During the 1950s TP Burns was best known as a hurdle-race jockey. He rode his first Cheltenham winner on Lucky Dome for Vincent O'Brien in the 1954 Spa Hurdle (Stayers' Hurdle).

The following year he kicked off the meeting with victory on the heavily backed Ahaburn, trained by O'Brien for Cork punter John A Wood in the Birdlip Selling Hurdle.

Later that afternoon he lost out narrowly on the O'Brien-trained Stroller in the Champion Hurdle, the verdict going to the Fred Winter-ridden Clair Soleil. A contemporary account recorded that when the result was announced Winter and Burns were summoned by the stewards to receive congratulations "on the finest finish any of them ever expected to behold".

Vincent O'Brien: Burns enjoyed a long and successful relationship with the master trainer

Burns rode seven of O'Brien's ten winners of the Gloucestershire Hurdle, almost all of them heavily backed. On two occasions, in 1956 and 1958, the pair captured both divisions.

Despite his pair of Gloucestershire Hurdle wins on Boys Hurrah and Pelargos, the rider's experience of the 1956 festival was marred for Burns by what was a unique occurrence during his lengthy association with O'Brien.

In the Champion Hurdle, riding favourite Stroller, his mount was hit by a springing hurdle and came down. It was the only fall he ever took from an O'Brien-trained horse.

Racing legend TP Burns dies at age of 94


Burns enjoyed his greatest days in association with Vincent O'Brien, a link that provided full rein to his versatility as a rider
E.W. Terms
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