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Northern Ireland legend of the turf who trained many a winner

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Former riding rivals, trainers and friends from Northern Ireland, the Republic and Scotland attended the funeral of Ballycarry-based trainer Billy Patton last weekend.

Many of the mourners rode against Billy when rules currently in place did not exist.

A cork-lined cap was the head protection of the time, while several preferred a cane rather than a whip.

Billy's son Robert invented the air-cushioned whip used by today's jockeys.

Billy learnt to ride on farm horses that pulled ploughs. His first race at the age of 15 was at his local fixture, Lisnalinchy, when, riding with a hat tied to his head with silk, he fell and broke his arm.

The Patton family have a long association with local racing and point to points, which resulted in a dynasty of amateur riders.

Billy, his brother Sammy and his sister Suzie were all dominant riders in point to points in that era.

Billy was a formidable rider on the course proper also.

This included success when winning on Nuns Hope, owned and trained by his father, a major cattle dealer, in 1947.

He trained Downpatrick specialist Jim's Choice to win multiple races for Peggy Hagan, who also sadly passed away only last week.

The pair were classmates in their days at school.

Billy collected the Leading Ulster Trainer Award in the early 1990s and trained the winner of the 1990 Ulster Grand National, Peacock Royale, for Kelso Stewart.

He reached pension age in the month of September and then passed his full HGV licence just weeks later to drive a new larger horse lorry.

I recall referring to Billy as a "veteran" trainer in a report and got a gentle rebuke. He agreed with a smile that "evergreen" was much better.

Eagle's Run was another multiple winner for the Larne trainer and provided Robert, then aged 16, with his first winner. However, the ill-fated South Sea Native was by far the classiest horse Patton trained, winning both his bumper and maiden hurdle with Robert in the saddle prior to being fatally injured at Navan.

Billy was a regular visitor to his grandson Jonjo Bright, who sustained life-changing injuries in a point to point fall.

He ceased training when aged 80, but continued to follow racing while looking after his stock on the home farm.

Billy wasn't one to roam and was never on a plane - Doncaster horse sales was the furthest he travelled.

He passed away aged 91 at his daughter Jayne's home following a period in hospital.

The funeral took place on Sunday with a service celebrating his life at Magheramorne Presbyterian Church in Larne.

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