Racing and its associated worlds are for once united for the saddest of reasons. John Oaksey — sometime amateur jockey, journalist, author, broadcaster, public speaker and charity worker — has died at the age of 83, after a long period of ill health.
And though his death at his Wiltshire home was, at the end, a release from suffering, his passing will be regretted by all who knew, or even knew of, him.
The 2nd Baron Oaksey was one of the sport's most universally respected and well-loved figures. He was born (as John Lawrence) into a silver-spoon life and was a high achiever in all he did, but he was also a genuinely kind person, with no side to him and time for anyone who asked, who became an inspiration in so many fields. “He was,” said perennial champion jump jockey Tony McCoy, “a truly great gentleman.”
Oaksey was educated at Eton, Oxford and Yale, where he started studying to follow in the footsteps of his eminent lawyer father. But the opportunity to take up racing journalism arose and he joined The Daily Telegraph in 1957. Parallel with his writing, which later led to television work with ITV and Channel 4, he rode as a successful amateur jump jockey.
His best victories came on the high-class chaser Taxidermist in the Whitbread and Hennessy Gold Cups in 1958, the last-named a race he took last year as owner-breeder with Carruthers. He also won several times at the Cheltenham Festival, and finished a heartbreakingly close second on Carrickbeg in the 1963 Grand National, caught in the last strides by Ayala. In all, he won more than 200 races before injuries sustained in a fall in 1975 forced his retirement.
He was more effective than stylish in the saddle, but was both when his tools were words. He was one of the finest of all racing journalists, one to whom the work came with a seeming rare blithe ease. But a greater legacy to the sport came through his founding of the Injured Jockeys' Fund.
Always aware of the risks faced by race-riders, Oaksey's desire to do something about the sport's lack of back-up for the injured became focused in 1964, when Tim Brookshaw and Paddy Farrell both broke their backs in falls.
He created the immediately successful Farrell-Brookshaw Fund, which eventually became the IJF and has helped more than 1,000 jockeys. One of its latest residential rehabilitation developments is Oaksey House in Lambourn.