Johnny Bradburne, one of Scottish racing's great personalities, dies aged 74

Marcus Armytage
The Telegraph
Johnny Bradburne, - Facebook
Johnny Bradburne, - Facebook

Scottish racing lost one of its great characters last week when Johnny Bradburne, a Corinthian jockey of a bygone era, died aged 74.

The day job for Bradburne was running a successful estate agency in St Andrews but he found time to help his late wife Sue training jumpers, rode about 100 winners under rules and in point-to-points and, a keen golfer, stewarded at the British Open a couple of times.

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His greatest moment in the saddle was winning the Future Novices’ Chase at Ayr on the family homebred General Chandos. It was the decade in which the race was won by such luminaries as Night Nurse, Little Bay, Noddy’s Ryde, Buck House and Celtic Shot.

On the back of that victory, the sale of the horse to Toby Balding paid for the bulk of his children’s education. Mark subsequently became a successful professional jockey while Lorna is now training horses in Ireland where she is married to Harry Fowler.

However, Balding found the horse hard to train and suggested to the new owner Lady Harris that she send him back to the Bradburnes’ small yard which she did and in 1991 General Chandos became Bradburne’s first ride in the Grand National, pulling up.

There were, however, a couple of moments in his career which might have changed the course of racing history. In one of them he was a third in the Scottish National on 200-1 outsider Off The Bru in 1992.

A year later he was very much the senior rider in terms of age in the infamous void National of 1993. Riding Interim Lib and given that he was late 40s, he might have been expected to take a responsible lead in telling his fellow riders to pull up. However, he loved riding Aintree and wild horses would not have stopped him.

Indeed he took the view that an official, in bowler hat and waving a red flag, and traffic cones in front of The Chair was an elaborate ruse by antis to get the race stopped so he kicked on. He had just hit the front at the Canal Turn second time when, about 10 strides after the fence, his saddle slipped. He was convinced he would have ‘won.’

He and Sue came close to that six years later when Blue Charm was second to Bobbyjo in 1999.  

As jockey he once remarked to his neighbour Robert Turkan that he admired Turkan’s brother Bill who also rode. “He always has a plan and sticks to it,” said Bradburne.

“Don’t you have a plan?” asked Turkan.

“Yes,” replied Bradburne, “But I never stick to it.”

A member at Muirfield, where the dining room is almost as famous as the golf course itself, he once took his friend, Tim Jackson, to play a round. As they sat down to their meal Johnny turned to the waiter and said: “You won’t forget my usual, will you?”

At the end of lunch, the waiter appeared with a large ‘doggy bag’ of scraps from the kitchen.

“Your dogs are very lucky,” said Jackson.

“No, no, Tim, it’s not for the dogs,” replied Bradburne. “I take it home and Susan cooks it for my supper.”

 In the 1960s he ran the first mobile disco in Scotland and he was a good public speaker. On one occasion at an important dinner he arrived late and slightly the worse for wear, sat down and promptly fell asleep at the table.

Half way through the speeches he woke up, thought something needed to be said, stood up, made a remarkable speech which everyone wished they had made, sat down again and went back to sleep.

He was great company, however, and more often than not owners were recruited from the dinner party table.

After a life of hitting the deck, including the famous occasion at Ayr when he was knocked out of the saddle by his wife in a hunter chase and was heard to say ‘some not very nice things about her’ as she came past on the next circuit, he had more artificial joints than most hospital prosthetic departments.

Ten years ago on a trip to Cuba one of his knees was playing up and a painkilling injection introduced infection. He returned home, spent 10 days in intensive care and the remainder of his life battling septicaemia.   

With a shoulders, both knees, an elbow and a hip replaced it is ‘5-6 take your pick’ on whether his final resting place is the churchyard or the scrap yard.

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