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Universal love for this genius with people and horses alike

Mick O'Toole (right) with Willie Mullins at Thurles last year
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A light has gone out in Ireland the likes of which will not shine again.

It should be impossible for anyone's death to raise a smile. But while countless numbers will rightly be riven by Mick O'Toole's passing I defy anyone to think of him without a broad grin of affection and a host of happy recollections coursing through the soul.

Here was a man universally loved. To go racing with him was to understand what the word popular really meant. About every five yards someone would bound up, shake his hand and want a chat.

The little genius would have time for everyone, smile that mischievous smile and give them all the time of day.

And genius he was. Genius with people and genius with horses.

In the early days he had a butcher's shop in one of the areas of Dublin where money was scarce and work the only route out. Soon there were well-fed greyhounds out the back.

Smart as a whip, he made them pay and his 26 greyhounds were joined by two horses. In the mid-1960s he sent Lintola over for "a rubbish race" at Edinburgh.

There was not a penny for her on course but she bolted in at 8-1. And from there the Micko molehill began to grow into a mountain.

He lorded it over the Cheltenham Festival in the 1970s with eight winners including Davy Lad in the Gold Cup – he had a monkey at 50-1 before Christmas. When O'Toole opened his shoulders half of Ireland would follow him in.

Sometimes there were disasters and they always make the best tales. He said that "the biggest certainty I ever sent to Cheltenham" was Mount Prague, who went off at 11-8 (7-1 bar) for the four-miler in 1977.

He was cruising when he fell at the 16th and, on a quiet afternoon, the groan that came from the Cheltenham stands can still be heard as a faint echo on the edge of the Curragh to this day.

Ted Walsh was on top of Mount Prague before he was underneath him and says: "I'll never forget it as I broke both collarbones. But I wasn't in anything like the pain that some of the fellas who backed him were feeling."

Ted Walsh: painful fall from Mount Prague at the 1977 Cheltenham Festival

Another great saddle ally of O'Toole's was Dermot Weld. On an important afternoon for the bank balance, Mick led him out of the paddock with the words: "If you get beat on this there's no point in coming back because you'll never see me again."

Now none of us will see him again.

And on both sides of the water the sadness will cut keen. His devilry was always outranked by his decency. He invented the word welcome and his hospitality was the stuff of legend.

His Irish Derby day parties – eight hours before the race and 36 after – passed hazily into folklore. One year his daughter Mags rang home from America late in the evening when things were clearly still going full tilt to be told by Dad: "Great day but there's some Fat Old Bollocks with a guitar in the kitchen who I can't get rid of." The FOB in question was Van Morrison.

At the O'Toole house at Maddenstown it snowed food courtesy of that miracle of patience, wife Una, and rained drink at the hand of the master. The bathrooms had three taps – hot, cold and champagne.

But above all the place rang with mirth and the sheer love of life. Few ever brought the world as much pleasure. Micko was a man who trailed clouds of joy, loyalty, laughter and oceans of fun in his wake.

More formal tributes than this tend to end with dry words such as "he leaves wife Una and children Mags and Ciaran". But in reality he will never leave any of them.

Just as he will never leave the rest of us who had the incalculably rich pleasure of knowing him.

Life-enhancer, master of the horse, father, friend and wit beyond compare, he shone a light that illuminated many a life and the game he loved.

RIP, M O'T.

Micko was a man who trailed clouds of joy, loyalty, laughter and oceans of fun in his wake
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