David Elsworth announces retirement

David Elsworth, trainer of the great Desert Orchid, has announced his retirement after a long and illustrious career.

‘Dessie’, as the dashing grey was affectionately known by his adoring public, won the 1989 Cheltenham Gold Cup as well as the King George VI Chase four times and the 1990 Irish Grand National – among many other big races.

Elsworth won a host of major jump races, including the 1988 Grand National with Rhyme ‘N’ Reason and the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Barnbrook Again in 1989 and 1990.

The 82-year-old was a leading dual-purpose trainer for many years with the legendary stayer, Persian Punch, one of his most popular Flat horses.

David Elsworth with Desert Orchid in Hyde Park, London
David Elsworth with Desert Orchid in Hyde Park, London (Rebecca Naden/PA)

But on Wednesday afternoon Elsworth confirmed he had decided to call it a day.

He told the PA news agency: “If you go to a party, there is a time to go home.

“I’m not upset or downhearted about anything. It is just time to move on. I’ve had a great time.”

Among Elsworth’s other top-class performers were In The Groove, winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes in 1990, and Arabian Queen – who took the Juddmonte International in 2015, beating Derby winner Golden Horn. He celebrated Group Two success as recently as 2019, with Sir Dancealot landing the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood.

Elsworth, based at Newmarket after many years at Whitsbury in Hampshire, has concentrated largely on the Flat in recent years.

“I feel I’ve been a very, very lucky man that I’ve been doing a job all my life – and it has not been a job. It’s a sport really, and I have been a participant in various ways,” he said.

“I’ve progressed over the years and we have had a degree of success, for which I feel very fortunate and we have been associated with some good horses, and it has been a great time.

“It creeps up on you. You are just doing your job and doing what you enjoy and when you win, it’s good. I’ve been very grateful and lucky. I feel very fortunate to be doing this for a long time.

“I started 67 years ago. I’ve started at the start and finished at the finish – I’ve gone through various stages of success and frustration like anyone else in any walk of life.

“I’ve had a lot of fun and it has been very good to me.”

Elsworth took out his full training licence in the 1978-79 jumps season following a career as a professional jump jockey from 1957-72 and a spell as assistant to Ricky Vallance.

After successfully applying for a licence in June, 1978, Elsworth started with three horses – Raffia Set, Skyline Drive and Cumberland Reel. All three made sure he would hit the ground running as they notched up eight victories between them in 1979.

David Elsworth
David Elsworth (Steve Parsons/PA)

An early example of how adept he was at the highest level under both codes came through Heighlin.

Bought to win the Triumph Hurdle, he duly did that to provide Elsworth with his first Cheltenham Festival winner in 1980, but he was also the trainer’s first Royal Ascot winner in the same year in the Ascot Stakes. He would go on to win the 1982 Goodwood Cup.

His move to Whitsbury Manor in 1981 signalled a real move into the big time and in 1983 Mighty Fly became the first horse to win the Lincoln and the Royal Hunt Cup in the same season.

Elsworth’s eye for a bargain never left him and the 22,000 Irish punts he paid for Indian Ridge, who won the Jersey Stakes in 1988 and the King’s Stand the following year, before going on to be a big success at stud, was one of his shrewder purchases.

It was during this era Elsworth enjoyed his golden spell over jumps, though and in Desert Orchid, Barnbrook Again, Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, Coombs Ditch, Floyd and Cavvies Clown were all top-class performers for a number of years.

If ever Elsworth’s skills needed advertising, however, a six-week spell in 1990 should be remembered. Desert Orchid won the Irish Grand National while In The Groove travelled over to win the Irish 1,000 Guineas.

Sir Dancealot was a Group Two winner for Elsworth as recently as two years ago
Sir Dancealot was a Group Two winner for Elsworth as recently as two years ago (Clint Hughes/PA)

For the past two decades Elsworth has trained almost exclusively on the Flat and moved to Newmarket in 2006 – but his exploits with the likes of Barshiba, her first foal Arabian Queen and Sir Dancealot proved he could still mix it with the best.

Elsworth said: “If you are a footballer, you need to be in a good team and racing is a team effort as well.

“I was surrounded by lots of people who were with me and they shared the ambitions and the hopes, and the success we had, I may have been at the helm, but you don’t get to be a successful racehorse trainer unless you are surrounded by good horses and good people.

“I have had them in abundance over the year and I have been very lucky.”

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