The world was at the feet of young jockey Campbell Gillies when he rode Brindisi Breeze to victory at the 2012 Cheltenham Festival – a 12/1 winner backed by me and many of my members at VG Tips. The smile on the face of Gillies as horse and jockey returned to the winners’ enclosure was a delight to witness.
That March the pair had won the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle. Within three months both the horse and jockey were dead.
Coming in to the 2012 festival Brindisi Breeze was unbeaten over hurdles, but Peter Scudamore, husband of trainer Lucinda Russell, was not confident. He said: “I didn’t think he’d win. The owner couldn’t see him getting beat. You’re taking on Willie Mullins, he had the favourite. I think that was the extra joy of it because I didn’t really expect to win and it hits you, such a monumental achievement, to us.”
Lesley Gillies, mother of the jockey, said: “It was one of the best days of my life. It was the happiest I’ve seen Campbell.”
Only two months later a call came through to the Lucinda Russell stables. A dead horse had been seen on the road. Scudamore recalls: “The heart falls out of you. And then you see the dead body. It becomes a very personal thing.”
Brindisi Breeze had jumped his way across two fields to get to the road, hurting himself in the process. A trail of blood led back to the driveway of the yard but newly fitted gates prevented him from being able to continue to the stables.
Gillies was as gutted as anyone by the death of the horse that had given him the highlight of his riding career. One month later he too was dead.
At late notice, 21 year old Campbell agreed to go on a holiday with friends. In the early hours of the first day on holiday, after sharing a few drinks with his mates, Gillies took to the swimming pool. He drowned after losing consciousness.
Scudamore told Chris Cook of The Guardian: “It was a James Dean thing, wasn’t it? It really was going out in a blaze of glory. Brindisi had a heart of a lion. He wasn’t fast, he was just braver than everything else and that’s why he won that race.
“Campbell was a fabulous talent. He had a self-belief. It was a privilege to be involved with him and his joie de vivre.”