Legendary David Elsworth had few equals

David Elsworth has finally brought down the curtain on a highly-successful career in racing that saw him propelled from journeyman jump jockey to one of the greatest dual-purpose trainers in the land.

There is no question ‘Elsie’ is best remembered as the trainer of Desert Orchid, one of the most popular horses to ever grace the National Hunt scene.

‘Dessie’ was a horse of a lifetime, winning a memorable Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1989, the King George VI Chase four times, the 1990 Irish Grand National and many other races. That record in itself would be enough to mark any career in the training ranks.

Desert Orchid in his heyday
Desert Orchid in his heyday (Barry Batchelor/PA)

But there was much more to Elsworth’s time on racing’s front line under both codes. Yes, his achievements in the National Hunt field were top notch.

The 81-year-old’s roll of honour includes the 1988 Grand National with Rhyme ‘N’ Reason, the Queen Mother Champion Chase with Barnbrook Again in 1989 and 1990, and two Triumph Hurdles with Heighlin (1980) and Oh So Risky (1991) among his Cheltenham Festival victories. He reached the pinnacle when becoming champion jumps trainer in 1987-88.

He had never reached those heights as a jockey, amassing just 31 winners from 1957-1972, but he did have a ride in the Grand National on Chamoretta in 1968 only to be brought down at what is now known as the Foinavon fence.

He first plied his trade as assistant to Colonel Ricky Vallance and was instrumental in Red Candle’s preparation ahead of his victory in the 1973 Hennessy Gold Cup, a race Elsworth went on to win himself with Ghofar in 1989.

Persian Punch was a mighty performer for David Elsworth on the Flat
Persian Punch was a mighty performer for David Elsworth on the Flat (Andrew Parsons/PA)

He set out on his own in 1978, basing himself at Whitsbury, and had his first winner with Fortune Cookie in March 1979.

He relocated to Dorset in 1993 but found success harder to come by and moved back to Whistbury three years later. The same year he bought Lear Spear at Kentucky, who would go on to win him the Cambridgeshire and Prince of Wales’s Stakes.

Alongside his many highlights over jumps, Elsworth established himself as a top trainer on the Flat as well and had the equivalent of Desert Orchid in the legendary stayer Persian Punch, owned by a long-time ally in Jeff Smith.

The public warmed to the bold front-runner who won 13 Group races in 63 starts aged three to 11, was placed in two Melbourne Cups and second in the Ascot Gold Cup at the age of 10.

Among his other top-class performers were In The Groove – winner of the Irish 1,000 Guineas, Juddmonte International and Champion Stakes in 1990 and Coronation Cup in 1991 – and Arabian Queen, who took the Juddmonte International in 2015.

Arabian Queen (right) caused a massive upset when beating Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International at York in 2015
Arabian Queen (right) caused a massive upset when beating Golden Horn in the Juddmonte International at York in 2015 (Anna Gowthorpe/PA)

Elsworth could be prickly at times and the latter’s success over odds-on favourite Golden Horn gave him the chance to vent his frustration. He refused to appear for the presentation or to talk to the media straight after the race for whatever reason. He did say a few words after saddling his runner in the following contest, however, underlining that Arabian Queen was “a filly of the highest class”.

As well as champion stayers and long-distance chasers, Elsworth could also train precocious youngsters such as Dead Certain, the champion two-year-old filly of 1989, when her wins included the Queen Mary, the Lowther and the Cheveley Park Stakes.

While victory in a British Classic eluded Elsworth, The Geezer finished second to Scorpion in the 2005 St Leger while both Norse Dancer and Stubbs Art were placed in the 2000 Guineas. He was in fact trainer and part-owner of Island Sands until his sale to Godolphin – a horse who went on to win the 2000 Guineas on his first run for his new connections.

He left his beloved Whitsbury for Newmarket in 2006 and, though not having as many horses as he used to and concentrating mostly on the Flat in the latter years of his career, seemingly falling out of love with the jumps game, he never lost his touch – with performers such as Sir Dancealot, winner of the Group Two Lennox Stakes at Glorious Goodwood in 2019, proving the point.

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