SIR ALEX Ferguson and miracle rider Henry Brooke have led the tributes to Yorkshire racing legend Jack Berry as the indefatigable inspiration behind the Injured Jockeys Fund celebrates his 80th birthday today.
The record-breaking Manchester United manager had several horses in training with Berry and remains in awe of the Yorkshireman’s charitable endeavours on behalf of stricken riders.
More than five decades of fundraising culminated with the opening in 2014 of Jack Berry House, a £3.5m state-of-the-art rehab centre at Malton which offers world class treatment, physiotherapy and care for jockeys, and which hosted a special celebratory lunch yesterday.
Built along similar lines to Oaksey House in Lambourn, it’s a far cry from 1964 when Berry, a butcher’s son from the back streets of Leeds, was among those who started impromptu bucket collections after Yorkshire-based rider Paddy Farrell was left paralysed by a fall in the Grand National.
It’s a journey that Berry, famed for his lucky red shirts, shared with luminaries like Ferguson. Not only do the two men continue to share a passion for horse racing, but Sir Alex was acutely aware of the selfless work undertaken by his friend when sports medicine was in its infancy and the first to add his own considerable support when requested.
One example is Middleham jump jockey Henry Brooke who was left in a coma following a fall at Hexham one year ago this weekend. Thanks, to Jack Berry House, he was back in the saddle – and riding over Aintree’s fearsome fences – within two months because of the weeks of one-to-one care he received at the centre that mends broken jockeys.
His purpose in the first place in building a centre for injured jockeys comes from his desire to help injured jockeys, and then it became a cause, and then his personality had almost everyone in the racing industry solidly behind him.Sir Alex Ferguson on Jack Berry
In a personal message sent to The Yorkshire Post, Sir Alex wrote: “First of all Happy Birthday to Jack – my admiration for him never ceases. I saw his energy and drive in completing ‘Jack’s House’.
“His purpose in the first place in building a centre for injured jockeys comes from his desire to help injured jockeys, and then it became a cause, and then his personality had almost everyone in the racing industry solidly behind him. It has been a pleasure to be a friend, and his effort to build that fantastic ‘Jack’s House’ has been an inspiration to us all.”
Ten years ago, Sir Alex had the privilege of watching horses and jockeys tackle the Grand National course from a car that was being driven around the inside of the iconic Merseyside racecourse by legendary Yorkshire trainer Michael Dickinson. It left a lasting impression about the risks faced by equine and human athletes. Berry, who accumulated more broken bones than winners during his riding career, came up with the idea of a respite centre in the 1960s as he recovered from a shattered leg and saw the care that was available to London’s dockers. “Why not racing?” he said.
For this, the aforementioned Brooke is eternally grateful. Without Jack Berry House which has to raise £300,000 a year to cover running costs, the 26-year-old says he would have spent months, if not longer, on the sidelines after his horror fall on October 8 last year which left him being airlifted to hospital with a collapsed lung, nine fractured ribs, internal bleeding and a broken shoulder.
Two months later, Brooke, and his gallant mount Highland Lodge, were beaten on the line at the end of a pulsating Becher Chase at Aintree. And while the jockey, one year on, hopes – in time – to be respected for his horsemanship rather than his bravery, he and his weighing room colleagues will always be in Berry’s debt. Not only does the centre help riders recuperate from serious injuries, but there’s help at hand for those day-to-day injuries that are an occupational hazard.
“He’s done that much for racing that you can’t put it into words,” said Brooke. “Jack Berry’s name will never be forgotten by racing. He’s touched many people in many, many different ways.
“His name’s not just above the door. When I was there, he was in every single week helping, encouraging, inspiring and looking for new ways to help riders. He doesn’t stop.
“Whatever he does, whether it’s training or funding, he does it well. He’s a professional. He made a difference to my life. He’s an inspiration. If I could be half the man Jack Berry is when I’m older, I will be happy.”