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The late John Hassett, left, pictured with Tom McGrath. Photograph by John Kelly.

Late Cheltenham-winning Clare trainer a thorn in bookies’ sides

When news filtered through earlier this week that 85-year-old Quin trainer, breeder and veterinary surgeon, John Hassett, had gone to his eternal reward, it marked the passing of one of racing’s most enduring characters, writes Michael Duggan.

Widely regarded as one of the shrewdest judges of bloodstock of any era, the Ballyhannon House trainer came from a family steeped in all aspects of equine activities.

A lifetime involved in the horse racing industry made the late Hassett a household name. Racing fans of a certain vintage will fondly recall a string of successful high-profile gambles orchestrated by the genial Hassett, who liked nothing better than to cane the bookies when the odds were in his favour.

Horses such as Humble Pickings – who won at the now defunct Phoenix Park racecourse at odds of 50/1 when backed in betting shops all over the country – Gombos, Was I Right and Scotia King are just a few from a long list of names that spring to mind.

Those legendary coups obviously didn’t endear the Quin man to either the bookmaking fraternity or the indeed the racing authorities, whom he had many brushes with over his long and illustrious career.

In more recent times, Hassett will be remembered for his brilliant handling of Cheltenham Festival winner Generosa.

Top jockey Norman Williamson steered the Trish Hyde-owned daughter of Generous to an historic victory in the Stakis Casino Hurdle final at the 1999 Festival, before turning out again 24 hours later at the Cotswolds track to claim a somewhat unlucky third in the Coral Cup.

On the Flat, Hassett also enjoyed big-race success, winning the prestigious Rockingham Handicap at the Curragh in 1979 with the Joanna Morgan-ridden Baby Brew. Two years later, he struck again when Naomi Joy, ridden by the late David Parnell, gave him his second success in the lucrative dash.

Back On Top was another good money-spinner for the Ballyhannon House outfit, landing a gamble at Cork before going on to claim Killarney’s Grade 3 Murphy’s Irish Stout Handicap Hurdle in 1999 and the valuable Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase at the 2003 Punchestown Festival.

In recent times, Hassett’s son, Johnny, has taken over the reins at Ballyhannon and is quickly establishing himself as a leading consignor on the Breeze-Up circuit.

John’s Requiem Mass took place on Wednesday, January 12 at 12 noon at St Mary’s Church, Quin with burial after Mass at Kildrum Cemetery.

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