Opening of Peter O’Sullevan House speech


On the 15th March 1971 the phone rang beside my hospital bed. On the line was Peter O’Sullevan. It was two days after what was to prove to be the last ride of my not particularly distinguished career as a jockey, and Peter was in pursuit of what must have been  –  in ‘Brough Scott Retires’ – just about the smallest scoop of his whole historic journalistic portfolio. On the phone that morning Peter was, as always, both truly professional but unreservedly caring. So you can imagine how good it is for me personally, and for our whole IJF team, to be opening this flagship operation carrying his name, reflecting those shared values, and enabled by opening support from the Peter’s own Charitable Trust.

This is a magnificent building – for us this is a glorious day – but it has only been made possible by a series of other hugely generous donations which you will find acknowledged as you look around the place for yourselves.

So a huge thank you to: The Thompson Family, The Alborada Trust, The Racing Foundation, The Childwick Trust, The EBM Charitable Trust, The Paul Bush Foundation Trust, The Bernard Sunley Foundation, Shirley Gedge and Godolphin.

There have been some terrific fundraising ideas and these two statues behind me are two of the best of them. They were created by Tom Hill who is a farrier in Hertfordshire. As you can see they consist entirely of horse shoes. Each of these shoes was sponsored individually by people whose names are acknowledged in a room across in the hall, and each shoe was originally worn by a genuine Newmarket quadruped although no doubt some of them were so slow that some punters would think they were better suited to being sculptures than masquerading as racehorses,

More seriously, as you look around here you will appreciate how this operation quite literally cements the Injured Jockeys Fund into the heart of Newmarket by standing, as it does, in the grounds of the British Racing School and to being able to use these new facilities for their benefit and, being based in Newmarket we will also be able to work ever closer with our sister charity Racing Welfare.

So big thanks to Grant Harris at the BRS for his support and forbearance as we wrestled with turning a plan into reality. And – because of the tremendous efforts of our builders RG Carter, of the meticulous planning of Nick Silcock and his team at Townscape Architects, and most of all of the drive and inspiration of our Chief Executive Lisa Hancock – we can now attach that rarest of descriptions – of being ON TIME AND UNDER BUDGET!

Of course, talking of Budgets leads to the million pound a year challenge of funding what will now be three rehab centres without any guaranteed industry support. As you know, Peter O’Sullevan House follows the opening of Oaksey House in Lambourn in 2009 and Jack Berry House in Malton in 2015 to complete a tripod of centres which now provide the physical facilities to back up the human side, the essential visiting and supportive work of our nine almoner care team around the country. Paying for it all will be tough but, to adapt the famous line from the film ‘Field Of Dreams’ –  “we have built them and we believe the funds will come”!

Speaking personally, I am very proud that the three centres have been completed under my chairmanship and it provides the perfect time to hand over to William Norris who I know will lead on with the sort of equine enthusiasm and legal wit that John Oaksey would have loved to share.

With the centres all in action we can now focus on our twin operational aims. Firstly, of giving both short, and long-term help to the injured.  And secondly, of helping people prepare both physically and mentally for the challenges of being a jockey.

Because, for all the improvements in structures, equipment and medical treatment, race riding remains a highly dangerous as well as wonderfully exciting challenge. Heck – that’s the point, the thrill of it. So, we are not here to soften the game or back off the challenge. We are here to tackle it.

We now live in an ever more fearful, risk averse society. But in racing we cannot be Risk Averse – what we need to be – is Risk Ready.

Which gives a supremely appropriate cue to introduce one of the least risk averse creatures ever to have trod the racing turf. How proud we are to have him as President of The Injured Jockeys Fund. Please welcome to do the official unveiling of Peter O’Sullevan House – Sir Anthony McCoy.

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