Tom O’Ryan: A northern light

Sporting Life racing editor Will Hayler pays his own tribute after the death of writer and broadcaster Tom O'Ryan.

Tom O'Ryan: Sadly passed away at the age of 61

Tom O'Ryan wasn't a close friend. We didn't really talk about anything other than horse racing and I suspect he didn't appreciate my views about the occasional insularity of the sport in Yorkshire. More than anything, he was just a bloke I worked with. But what a good bloke to work with.

I never heard Tom once say 'How many winners have you ridden?' He didn't have to, because every time we ever spoke about horsemanship, it became apparent within seconds that he essentially knew what he was talking about and I didn't.

His career as a jockey may not have been stratospheric – a win in the Bogside Cup on Alverton got an occasional airing in conversation, as did successes for Pat Rohan and Peter Easterby when an apprentice – but the graft that produced around 80 winners gave his writing and broadcasting work much greater depth. He'd paid his dues and appreciated others who were prepared to get their hands dirty.

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However, although most only saw Tom's burning passion for horse racing illustrated through his pieces in the Racing Post – and more recently on Sporting Life – and appearances as pundit and then presenter on Racing UK, it was behind the scenes coaching, mentoring, tutoring, encouraging and developing the jockeys he came into contact with that his dedication to the sport truly came alive.

Tom had the ability to cut through most waffle with two (or possibly three on a very special occasion) choice words, but was a particularly vigorous defender and advocate of any rider who came under his wing for support. His loyalty was beyond reproach, his dedication admirable, and his opinion trusted.

As a Yorkshireman, Tom appreciated the art of getting value and I will fondly remember the day he came in to the press room grinning at having guided his old Peugeot Estate safely across the 250,000-miles threshold, but he was generous with his time to everyone.

No jockey refused him an interview, no trainer told him it was none of his business. At times, it could be a frustrating matter working alongside him, because it seemed like he communicated with the jockeys and trainers he knew best using only a series of smiles, knowing winks and chuckles, but he was also a very fine talker – the reason why he was often called upon to 'say a few words' at occasions both happy and sad.

Now there are to be no more words. I will miss his honesty, his insight, his dry sense of humour and the smell of a cigarette being enjoyed in considered silence as the sun set over a racecourse at the end of a day's work.

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