Legendary Gold Cup-winning trainer Mick O'Toole dies at age of 86
Davy Lad and Dickens Hill the standouts in an illustrious career
Cheltenham Gold Cup and Classic-winning trainer Mick O'Toole has died aged 86.
A legendary and highly popular figure in Irish racing for more than 50 years, O'Toole, who enjoyed many big race successes over jumps and on the Flat, had been in failing health in recent months and died in the Blackrock Clinic in Dublin on Thursday afternoon.
He trained Davy Lad to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1977, one of eight victories at the Cheltenham Festival. Davy Lad also won the Royal & SunAlliance Novices' Hurdle in 1975 while Parkhill won the same race in 1976.
His other Cheltenham winners were Chinrullah (1979 Arkle), Bit Of A Jig (1976 Stayers' Hurdle), Macs Chariot (1977 Supreme Novices' Hurdle), Gay Tie (1978 National Hunt Chase) and Hartstown (1981 Supreme Novices' Hurdle).
O'Toole's best performer on the Flat was Dickens Hill who won the Irish 2,000 Guineas and the Eclipse in 1979 and also finished second in the Derby and the Irish Derby, He sent out Faliraki to win the Norfolk Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1975, three years after landing the Ascot Stakes with Balios.
His big-race successes over jumps in Ireland included the Irish Sweeps Hurdle with Chinrullah (1978) and Carrig Willy (1980) and the 1975 Galway Plate with Our Albert.
O'Toole originally trained at Phoenix Park before moving to the Curragh in 1968. He also enjoyed success as a greyhound trainer and won the Greyhound Oaks with Marjone at Harringay in 1965.
He is survived by his wife, Una, daughter Margaret, a well-known bloodstock agent, and son Ciaran, one of Ireland's leading jockey agents.
Many of Ireland's leading trainers paid tribute to the immensely popular Dubliner, including champion jumps trainer Willie Mullins who said: "Micko was in every sense of the word a legend. We had an involvement with him in recent years in his role as racing manager for Joe and Marie Donnelly who have horses with us. Whenever you left his company you always had a smile on your face.
"He was a great trainer and a great character."
Aidan O'Brien, Ireland's champion Flat trainer, said: "I was very sad to hear of his passing. He was a very successful trainer and a very wise man who knew so much about the game."
Noel Meade, chairman of the Irish Racehorse Trainers Association, said: "Not only was he a brilliant trainer, he was always great fun and was someone I looked up to from the very beginning of my training career.
"He was the life and soul of every party going. A larger than life figure, he was incredibly generous to everyone who knew him and is going to be sadly missed."
Curragh trainer John Oxx said: "It's a sad day and Irish racing has lost a great character. He was a very successful trainer under both codes and had a great eye for a horse. He was a very kind and generous man who had boundless wit and good humour no matter what the circumstances."
Ted Walsh, who rode many winners for O'Toole, said: "Mick was a one-off and I can say only good things about him. He was part of my youth and of my early days in racing. I rode a lot of winners for him. It never mattered whether things went well or badly, whether horses won or lost or whether he had a good day or a bad day punting, and he always loved a bet, he never changed.
"If he thought you gave one a bad ride – he'd give you a bollocking but it would be forgotten about almost immediately. He was a friend and was always great company, a true legend of the game."
Dermot Weld, another to have ridden with great success for O'Toole, said: "He was an excellent trainer who enjoyed success at the top level, over jumps and on the Flat.
"He was a true legend of Irish racing and, in victory and defeat, represented all that is good about racing. He will be a very hard act to replace. My deepest sympathy goes to his family."
Martin Brassil, who trained Numbersixvalverde to win the 2006 Grand National, began his career in racing with O'Toole. Brassil said: "I was with him from 1976 to 1986 and he taught me so much. He introduced me to the right people in racing and taught me so much about how to conduct myself in racing.
"He was always very positive and was a great man to get you motivated. I looked after Dickens Hill, the best Flat horse he trained, and I remember one day in the yard at the end of the horse's two-year-old campaign when he told me to keep a close eye on him and not to worry so much about the other horses.
"He knew I didn't have a car at the time and he told me that if Dickens Hill won a Classic the following year, he'd buy me a new car . . . and he did."
Bloodstock agent Bobby O'Ryan also worked for O'Toole and said: "I was with him for ten years as assistant and head lad and he was the greatest gentleman I ever had anything to do with.
"There was never one cross word between us in the ten years I was there. Through bad times and good times, he was always the same and never changed. He was a brilliant man to work for and we remained friends right up to the end."
Brian Kavanagh, CEO of Horse Racing Ireland, said: "Obviously, Micko's passing is very sad although I know it had been expected in recent days.
"As well as being a brilliant trainer, he was a wonderful character who always had a good story to tell which could lighten any situation. When he won the Contribution to the Industry Award at the HRI Awards in 2014 it was a great occasion and one he really enjoyed."