THE sweeping plains of the Curragh bid farewell to one of its longest-serving work riders earlier this month.

Like the hero riding off into the sunset at the end of a western, Benji Coogan quietly ended his 29-year partnership with the Dermot Weld stable on February 8th, aged 66. The grounded and unassuming ex-jockey, regarded as a kind mentor in the tack room, was Rosewell House’s senior work rider over a career that spanned three decades.

On the racecourse, he rode over 400 winners, the most memorable one being Up And At ‘Em, trained by his brother Jimmy, in the Group 3 Cornwallis Stakes at Ascot in October 1992. The celebrations in the winner’s enclosure pushed the British boundaries of etiquette to the limit.

It was not long after that famous victory that Benji joined the Rosewell House team as a senior work rider alongside stable jockey Michael Kinane in 1995. He also rode a winner on the track for Rosewell House.

In the early 1980s, Benji worked with Mel Brittan in North Yorkshire and was crowned Cock O’The North leading jockey, partnering classy sprinter Grey Desire.

He was probably the first and last jockey to ride an unraced two-year-old into a live television studio in Ireland when he appeared with Gay Byrne on The Late Late Show in 1981. The horse was named Toshiba Technology and was trained by the late Basil Brindley in Co Meath for a syndicate consisting of Sunday World competition winners.

While Dermot Weld is well known for his judgment of horseflesh, he also possesses an expert eye for human talent. A critical factor in the success of a professional yard. Weld has an innate skill at recognising and developing a talented supporting team around him.

Loyalty, along with hard work, attention to detail, and persistence, are the traits that he looks for in his staff, and Benji possessed all of them. Benji’s judgement of a young horse on the Curragh gallops was invaluable to his boss. Of all the good horses he rode out, Benji rated Vinnie Roe and Grey Swallow as the best of them. His eye for spotting promising young jockeys was well known too.

In the yard, Benji was always the one to take a greenhorn under his wing and mentor them in the ways of Rosewell House.

He had great empathy with people and horses and was always on hand to offer words of advice when times were tough. He was an excellent judge of pace and could read DK’s mind and what he wanted working a racehorse.

They don’t make them like Benji Coogan anymore, and his warm smile and presence will leave a void at Rosewell House. Like the recent passing of Maureen Mullins in Kilkenny, Benji’s retirement closes a generational door on Irish racing in Kildare.

Tom Daly, head man at Rosewell, said of Benji: “He was an absolute gentleman. A great man for the one-liners. His favourites were ‘Don’t say what you don’t mean’ and ‘Youve got to be in it to win it.’ Benji will be greatly missed at Rosewell House. On behalf of the staff, we wish him a very happy retirement.”

Benji plans to spend more quality time with his family. His wife, Kerry, has been a bedrock of support down through the years, along daughters Rachel and Lucy. He will continue to help as a stalls handler at Irish racecourses and enjoy a few quiet pints in Neesons, watching the young horses he helped prepare for this season compete on the racetrack.