Trainer Mick Winters has paid tribute
to former stable star Rebel Fitz after the Galway Hurdle and Powers Gold
Cup-winning stalwart died at the age of 15, writes Mark Boylan.
The versatile Grade 1 winner sparked extraordinary scenes of celebration in the winner's enclosure at Ballybrit in 2012 when landing a memorable victory under Davy Russell.
The 18-time winner, who remarkably finished out of the first two on just four occasions in a 30-race career, had been retired after a run on the Flat at Listowel in September 2015 and was in the care of owner Brian Sweetnam's father Jerry in County Cork.
"He had been very sound and they had even contemplated bringing him back to run him in charity races lately," said Winters, who trained the likeable gelding to record four Graded successes.
"Jerry rang me on Friday night and said the horse cast himself in the box. When they got the vet out to him they discovered he had dislocated his stifle. He's a very hyper horse who would have struggled to recover."
He added: "He was a very special horse and when they're gone you really realise it."
The shrewd Kanturk handler demonstrated his canny knack of producing horses in peak condition for the big occasion with the admirable hurdler and was effusive
in his praise for the horse named after former Cork hurler John Fitzgibbon.
"Even if everything wasn't 100 per cent in his favour he'd still turn up and win for you," he said.
"There's a lot of horses that run bad for the simplest reasons and need everything to go perfect for them – this fella was just different.
"If he was out in nature, he was like Black Beauty out of the film – always on the go and feeling well in himself. For a wound-up horse he was very intelligent.
"He had a great life and if we could all have lived the life he did it'd be great. We'll miss him and really appreciate him."
Winters is readying himself for a busy February when he lines up in two charity races between the flags against some former legends of the weighing room.
Paul Carberry, Jason Titley, Graham Bradley, and Adrian Maguire are among the riders taking part in the The Pat Smullen Legends Race for Cancer at Bellharbour point-to-point in County Clare on February 2, while the recently retired Noel Fehily also dusts
off his boots to compete later in the month at Knockanard point-to-point in County Cork.
The second event takes place on February 16 and is in aid of the Cork and Waterford Injured Jockeys Fund, which helps qualified jockeys who regularly ride in the region in the event of injury.