The reality that riding horses comes with risk has rarely been underlined more grimly than by the tragic death of 13-year-old Jack de Bromhead in Kerry on Saturday.
Tragedy is a word that often gets frivolously tossed about in sport in relation to trivial subject matter.
But the desperate loss of Henry and Heather de Bromhead’s teenage son is truly tragic and has plunged everyone in racing, and many beyond, into depths of sadness.
Those dreadful scenes that unfolded on Rossbeigh beach on the first day of the Glenbeigh pony racing festival were the result of a freakish accident where the horse appeared to stumble at a bend and reportedly fell on the rider.
Spills are hardly unknown when it comes to any type of horse-riding, never mind when it is competitive. It is a risk that is part of the allure for those in thrall to the thrill of the sport. Chance usually sees the cost being totted up in bruises and broken bones. But, catastrophically, not always.
In 2016, JT McNamara died three years after suffering horrific injuries in a fall at the Cheltenham festival.
It is 11 years since Jack Tyner, son of trainer Robert Tyner, lost his life after a fall at a point-to-point in Co Waterford. Another rider, Dary Cullen, was killed in another point-to-point fall in 2006.
In 2003 there were two fatalities on Irish racecourses. Kieran Kelly was killed in a fall at Kilbeggan, while Seán Cleary was fatally injured on a fall on the flat in Galway.
Pony racing is a separate sphere of the horse game. Widely referred to as ‘flapping’ it is far removed from any ‘Sport of Kings’ stereotype. Instead, it is rooted in community and a spirit of improvisation and is renowned as a nursery for some of the finest jockeys in racing.
Current top riders including champion jockey Paul Townend, as well as Rachael Blackmore and Jack Kennedy, cut their competitive teeth in pony racing, getting their first taste of the cut and thrust of race-riding.
That competition can be intense and often the runners look much more like racehorses than ponies.
Jack de Bromhead had started down a well-worn path in terms of ambitions of becoming a jockey.
Having learned to ride at home, sometimes under the tutelage of Blackmore, whose pioneering partnership with Henry de Bromhead has yielded record-breaking success in recent years, the teenager had begun to taste the unique satisfaction of riding winners.
Just a week ago he was successful in a contest in Cahersiveen. The bright, pleasant youngster who often accompanied his father to the races when stars such as Honeysuckle were in action had started to earn his spurs and impress good judges able to recognise talent when they see it.
Such horsemanship was no surprise. From his yard at Knockeen near Tramore in Co Waterford, Henry de Bromhead has assembled one of the most power teams of horses in the country. He has rewritten the record books in recent years.
Having secured an unprecedented ‘Triple Crown’ of the Cheltenham festival’s greatest prizes – the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase and Gold Cup – in 2021, a few weeks later De Bromhead completed a ‘Grand Slam’ of jump racing’s top races with Minella Times in the Grand National.
This year, he secured back-to-back victories in the Gold Cup and Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham.
That he accomplished all this with an easy charm and modesty that makes him widely popular in racing ensures the sport will wrap itself around the De Bromhead family as much as it possibly can. Nothing, however, can console for such a dreadful loss.
There will inevitably, and rightly, be questions asked about the circumstances in which Saturday’s accident arose.
Beach racing has a long history in this country. The most famous beach race of all, Laytown, takes place this Thursday, where professional jockeys will be in action. Some of them will have begun their careers as kids in ‘the flaps’.
That is partly why so many feel so numb right now, struggling to make sense of the unfathomable loss of a such a young life, so full of promise. There is always risk on the back of a horse. But chance has rarely looked more cruel than this.