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Friday, 19 October, 2018

Noel O'Brien excelled at his job and possessed a remarkable zest for life

Tony O'Hehir on a man who will be much missed in Irish racing

Noel O'Brien: loved a game of golf, the theatre and even fancied himself as a classical singer. He was an entertainer and could speak on many topics other than racing
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While his death in the early hours of Tuesday had sadly become inevitable in recent days, it is still difficult to come to terms with the passing of Noel O’Brien at the age of 57.

He was a man who excelled at his job as handicapper and who possessed a remarkable zest for life.

A much-respected racing professional, Noel was a lot more besides. Gregarious, fun-loving, with a great sense of humour and a friend to so many people in racing and beyond.

Seeing him at a race meeting was always entertaining and frequently informative. He had his opinions and shared them willingly, whether discussing upcoming races or races of the recent past.

O'Brien with BHA head of handicapping Phil Smith

“Have I made any mistakes?" was a question he frequently asked when the weights for a big handicap were published. He would listen with interest to your views about whether a horse might have too much weight or too little, and wasn’t slow about telling you why he thought you were wrong. More often than not he was proved right.

Away from the track Noel loved the social aspect of racing – a good party, dinner or lunch in Ireland or on one of his many visits to Britain. At such functions he showed Grand National-winning stamina and was frequently last to leave the dance floor. Early to bed was never a priority.

He loved a game of golf, the theatre and even fancied himself as a classical singer. He was an entertainer and could speak on many topics other than racing. He could take a ribbing and give one in return if he thought an article had, in his opinion, been harsh.

Trainer Jimmy Mangan (right) shows his appreciation to O'Brien after Whinstone Boy lands the 2010 Thyestes Chase at Gowran Park

From a journalist's perspective, Noel was always someone you could call for guidance or information. If you were in a hole for a story, a call to 'The Red Lad' was all you needed for salvation.

Whether for a mid-season assessment of the chasing or hurdling scene, the strength of the novices, whatever the subject, there was no problem getting the whys and the wherefores, which were given willingly.

Meeting Noel at the track, especially during the winter months, cap and scarf and eyes twinkling behind spectacles, was always an enjoyable experience. Moments which, sadly, will never be repeated.

A good pro and a special gent has departed after a battle bravely fought.


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A much-respected racing professional, he was a lot more besides. Gregarious, fun loving with a great sense of humour and a friend to so many
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