Rest In Peace, Campbell
THE immensely talented - and much-loved - Campbell Gillies Image: Kenny Ainslie
Friends, family, racing colleagues and even the First Minister pay tribute to young jockey who died
THE racing world - and East Lothian - is in mourning after Haddington jockey Campbell Gillies died in a holiday accident the day before his 22nd birthday.
The promising National Hunt rider had flown out to Kavos on the Greek island of Corfu with fellow jockeys on Monday. He drowned in a hotel swimming pool on Tuesday morning, just hours after his arrival in Greece.
The coroner's report, released yesterday, said the jockey died of drowning and no other causes. Toxicology tests reportedly found he had drunk a "considerable amount" of alcohol.
AN INVESTIGATION has now been launched into claims that there were inadequate safety precautions at the swimming pool.
Gillies' death comes just three months after the biggest victory of his young career, romping home a winner on Gold Cup day at the world-famous Cheltenham Festival.
Brindisi Breeze, the horse Gillies rode to victory in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle at the festival, was killed in a road accident after escaping from his yard only a month ago.
Campbell's uncle, Rory McNeill, made a statement on behalf of Gillies' family - mother Lesley, sister Rita and brother Finlay, a rugby player for professional club Glasgow Warriors who enjoyed a successful youth career at county clubs Haddington and Dunbar.
"The whole family is devastated and trying to come to terms with our loss," he said. "Campbell was dearly loved by one and all and this is shown by the tributes to Campbell."
A Foreign Office spokeswoman confirmed that consular assistance was being provided to the family "at this difficult time".
Racing prodigy Gillies grew up on Haddington High Street, studying at Knox Academy before attending British Racing School in 2006.
Some of his earliest riding experience came with trainer George Foster, who owns the Stoneypath Racing yard near Stenton.
He told the Courier: "I knew Campbell well. His sister Rita used to work for me and Campbell used to come and ride out occasionally, he had a few rides for me early on.
"The people in the yard have known him for a long time. Some of them have known him since he was very small. He and [best friend and fellow jockey] Alexander Voy used to ride ponies round by the yard when they were very young, so we have very fond memories of him.
"He was no doubt an immense talent but, more importantly, he was a lovely lad. We have to realise just how difficult it must be for the family at this time, they are such a lovely family and it is devastating for them.
"It's certainly a loss to racing but it's such a huge loss for the family. Racing will recover, the family will struggle to recover."
Meanwhile, Sarah Ingham, depute headteacher at Knox Academy, spoke of her memories of Gillies as a lively and friendly pupil with a good sense of humour.
"Everyone at Knox is saddened by the news of Campbell's untimely death and our condolences go out to his family at this difficult time," she said. "It was well known at Knox that Campbell was a talented horse rider and was destined for great things in his career as a jockey. It is tragic that his full potential will now not be realised."
In 2007 Gillies moved to Kinross to work alongside trainer Lucinda Russell, the owner of Brindisi Breeze.
In a statement, Russell paid tribute to the talented jockey.
"This dreadful news has hit the whole yard," she said. "He was a much-loved, popular and respected member at Arlary House and it is so hard to lose part of our family. Our hearts go out to his mother, brother and sister.
"We are immensely proud of the achievements of Campbell. It was through his innate ability and talent that he reached great heights as a jockey at such an early age. More than that he had a wonderful charm that I believe came across to everyone who met him and through his media interviews."
Assistant trainer Peter Scudamore added: "His victory at Cheltenham on Brindisi Breeze was the pinnacle of Campbell's career. The race epitomised him as a jockey - his belief and confidence and his innate timing. He became one with the horse.
This empathy and love of his horses was one of the reasons that he was a truly great jockey."
Colleagues at the stables also paid tribute to his "great sense of humour" and described him as "young and full of life". "We shall miss him but never forget him," they added.
Jockey Alexander Voy, Gillies' best friend, said on social networking website Twitter: "I can't believe it. You only have one best friend and now he's gone. I'll never forget you, love you pal."
He later posted that Gillies, whose father is John, from Haddington, would have been "very touched" at the hundreds of messages paying tribute to the young jockey. Friends attempted to pay a final tribute to Gillies by making #RIPCampbellGillies and #HappyBirthdayCampbell 'trend' on Twitter.
Gillies was a regular at Musselburgh Racecourse. Bill Farnsworth, the racecourse's general manager, paid tribute to a young jockey he believed had the potential to become a future star of the sport.
"We are all shocked by the news," he told the Courier. "Obviously our thoughts all go to the friends, family and relatives of Campbell.
"He was well-known at Musselburgh and was one of the most popular jockeys in the weighing room. He was a local guy and he had a huge future ahead of him.
"He had just ridden his first winner at the Cheltenham Festival in March and he was going to be one of the top jockeys. His death is a huge loss to the Scottish racing industry and has been a bit of a shock."
Jan Wilson, chair of Haddington Community Council, also passed on her condolences.
"It's just an absolute tragedy," she said. "Having been through something similar myself when my sister died young I know what it feels like for the family.
Obviously they will be devastated and they have the sympathies of the whole community council.
"We are just so sorry that this has happened, it's a dreadful tragedy."
Gillies rode his first winner in the 2007-08 season and had 131 wins in Britain, 38 of them coming in the 2011/12 season, with his Cheltenham victory the first Grade 1 race win of his career. He last raced at Hexham on Sunday before flying out to Corfu.
Tributes to Gillies have flooded in, with racing legend Tony McCoy posting on Twitter: "Very sad news about Campbell Gillies. A very good jockey but an even better bloke. All our thoughts are with his family RIP."
And First Minister and keen racing fan Alex Salmond added his own condolences.
"This is devastating news," he said. "Campbell Gillies, at the age of 21, had achieved extraordinary success, highlighted by his victory at this year's Cheltenham Festival.
"The loss of his outstanding talent is a huge blow, not just to racing but to Scottish sport and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time."
All four meetings on Tuesday observed a minute's silence in memory of Gillies, while jockeys wore black armbands.