IT is with a most profound and deep sense of sadness that I have learned of the death of my dear friend Noel O’Brien, the Senior National Hunt handicapper of the Turf Club.

Noel has been an integral part of the Irish racing scene for ever, and I don’t remember a time in my career in racing that I did not know him.

Noel was one of the most respected Irish racing officials, one of the most loved human beings, and a great person to be in company with. While he had a most professional approach to his work, off duty Noel was quite simply the best of fun.

His many close friends in so many different walks of life will attest to that. He made friends easily, he valued these friendships and he maintained them.

While he grew up in the thoroughbred county of Kildare, born just outside Naas in the parish of Caragh, his initial connection with racing as a young man was through his late father’s love of a flutter, and his own attendance at Punchestown races when schools in the surrounding areas were given the week off for the great racing festival. This was described by Noel in an interview with The Irish Field as ‘manna from heaven’ for a racing fan like him.

Noel’s career guidance teacher in school was a huge racing fan. Even before Noel had sat his final school examination, his teacher told him that the Turf Club was looking for staff. Cahir O’Sullivan was the man in charge and employed Noel, who found himself “in the very privileged position of having found employment before I had even sat my Leaving Certificate.”

Two years in accounts was followed by a stint in the declarations department, which included dealing with the handicappers. To become one was Noel’s dream job and in 1981 he applied for the role as a junior handicapper, training for 12 months with Louis Magee, the Senior National Hunt handicapper.

Noel continued to work as junior handicapper until 1990, when he was promoted to Senior Hurdles handicapper. In 1995, Ted Kelly, who had replaced Louis Magee, retired and Noel became the Senior National Hunt handicapper, a role he held with distinction for more than two decades.

Noel claimed to have always operated under Louis Magee's maxim that you can “do whatever you want, once you can stand over it and justify it”.

He explained that he tried to handicap horses on what they beat rather than what beat them, always telling trainers that they should not be afraid of their horse finishing too close to a highly rated opponent. He worked closely with HRI in drawing up the racing programme, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Anglo-Irish Classifications.

Many times Noel had to employ the greatest of diplomatic skills when dealing with controversies that arose over the handicapping of Irish runners in Britain. While he could be firm in his resolve, he always handled these situations with great tact. He was a gentleman, and greatly respected, even by those who sometimes disagreed with his assessments.

Noel’s loss will be acutely felt by many, most especially his family, relatives and many friends. His efforts to fight the dreaded illness that blighted his life this year were heroic, and he never lost his zest for life.

The last few months, however, proved to be a challenge too great and he sadly lost his brave battle this morning. His passing leaves a void in Irish racing, but especially in the lives of his family and friends. May he rest in peace.


The death has occurred of Noel P. O'BRIEN

Kilrush, Athy, Kildare / Caragh, Kildare

O' Brien, Noel P., Kilrush, Athy & late of Thomastown, Caragh, Co. Kildare & Senior NH Handicapper, Irish Turf Club, December 19th 2017, peacefully at St. James' Hospital surrounded by his loving family, after an illness bravely borne. Deeply regretted by his loving brothers, sisters, Karen, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nieces, nephews, uncle, aunt, relatives & a wide circle of friends.

Reposing at his family home in Thomastown, Caragh on Wednesday from 12 noon, with rosary at 8pm. Removal on Thursday at 10am to arrive at the Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph, Caragh for 10.30am Funeral Mass, followed by burial in Caragh Cemetery. Family flowers only please. Donations, if desired, to ICU, St. James' Hospital.