Tag Archive for: Richard Dunwoody

I think I called him sir in the stalls – Fallon on Lester Piggott

Kieren Fallon recalled a pivotal educational moment in his early days as a jockey, handed down to him by Lester Piggott, who died in Switzerland at the age of 86 on Sunday morning.

The six-times champion admitted to being a little star-struck in one of his first races against Piggott, having arrived from Ireland as a wet-behind-the-ears rookie.

“Everybody has a Lester Piggott story,” said Fallon, who went on to win 16 British Classics in a glittering career in the saddle.

“Everybody was in awe of him, especially us young riders. I had just started off, having come over from Ireland.

“I was in the stalls, riding a good filly, and Lester was in the stall beside me.

“He said ‘what are you doing?’ and I could not wait to tell him what I was doing – I planned to make the running.

Kieren Fallon won the Derby three times
Kieren Fallon won the Derby three times (Sean Dempsey/PA)

“He popped in behind me and 100 yards from the line he pulled out and…boom. He had beaten me a short head. He gave me a riding lesson. He educated me that day. I will never forget it.

“He knew she was the one to beat and if I hadn’t have told him what I was doing, it might have been a different story. It was a great education to get from a master.

“You never reveal your hand. It was just typical of him. I think I called him sir in the stalls as well.

“He was such a legend. Everyone tried to aspire to be like Lester and I was no different.

“Lester was such an icon, a brilliant rider and a superb tactician.”

Three-times champion jump jockey Richard Dunwoody did not ride against Piggott, but rode out with him at the late Paul Kelleway’s yard as a teenager at Newmarket.

“I grew up with Nijinsky and all of those good horses and wanted to be a Flat jockey like Lester. We were all excited that Lester was riding out on Swiss Maid,” Dunwoody recalled. “We cantered down alongside the Rowley Mile and I was tailed off.

“By the time I had got my reins sorted, he was gone. That was the highlight of my life, aged 15.

Richard Dunwoody was a huge admirer of Lester Piggott
Richard Dunwoody was a huge admirer of Lester Piggott (Rebecca Naden/PA)

“I got to meet him when I was riding a bit. On a rare day off, I remember taking my dad to Chepstow to watch Nicholas, which was Lester’s first winner back from retirement in October 1990 for Susan (Piggott), just a few weeks before he rode Royal Academy to victory in the Breeders’ Cup.

“People say they should never come back but it was brilliant to see him riding again. I remember Peter Scudamore’s dad was there as well, so dad had a great day.

“My father actually looked after Luca Cumani’s Commanche Run, whom Lester won the St Leger on in 1984.

“He had jocked Darrel McHargue off and there was the famous quote where Lester was asked ‘don’t you feel sorry for Darrel today?’

“Lester turned and said ‘I hope he enjoys his game of golf’.”

Piggott also had ties to Dunwoody’s trainer grandfather, Dick Thrale. He added: “He rode Indigenous for him. Indigenous holds the five-furlong world record (53.6 seconds, shouldering 9st 5lb), winning the Tadworth Handicap at Epsom in 1960. That was hand-timed, so I don’t think it will ever be beaten.”

Piggott retired for the first time in 1985, but his burgeoning training career was cut short when he was sensationally jailed for tax fraud. He was stripped of his OBE before being released on parole after a year in 1988.

He then returned to the saddle in 1990, a comeback which enhanced his status, executing a ride on Royal Academy that was as brassy as it was brilliant to win at the Breeders’ Cup.

“I don’t think words can describe just how good Lester was,” said Dunwoody.

“It was obviously very sad with the way things went with the tax and everything else, but in some ways it added to his legend, really.

“To come back and ride to the standard he did well into his fifties was just absolutely incredible.

“He was iconic. People tried to emulate how short he rode, but they were never going to do it the way he did it. His strength in a finish was absolutely incredible and the winners he rode is testament to his brilliance.”

The pair met on social occasions and Dunwoody remembers Piggott could always turn on the charm at will when it suited him.

“Just after I retired, I remember having lunch at Motcombs in Belgravia with him and Sir Peter O’Sullevan (BBC commentator). They were good friends, but Peter was in awe of him. We all were.

“I remember one time at The Lesters with my girlfriend at the time. She was seated in the middle of myself and Lester.

“He got a bottle of champagne which he only shared with her, all evening. He didn’t give it to anyone else – it was just her and him! But that was him, he was totally charismatic.

“The last contact I had with him was when my daughter, Milly, was born. I sent him a text saying that ‘we are very happy, and the best thing about it was that she was born on your birthday’, and he sent one back offering his congratulations.

“It is really sad to learn of his passing and we send our heartfelt condolences to Maureen (Haggas, daughter), William (Haggas son-in-law) and all Lester’s family and friends. He was much loved by so many and a hero to me.”

Master French trainer Andre Fabre paid his tribute to Lester Piggott
Master French trainer Andre Fabre paid his tribute to Lester Piggott (Nigel French/PA)

Andre Fabre was among a slew of high-profile French racing figures to pay tribute to Piggott, whose magnetism and sense of devilment he remembers fondly.

“What a charming man,” said Fabre. “He was not talkative but he was touching with his kindness to me.

“One story I would like to relate is how unlike other jockeys he would, on occasions and at the last minute, release his irons a notch, just to show how good he was. I will miss him.”

Former French champion jockey and successful trainer Freddie Head added: “I loved the man. We enjoyed a lot of souvenirs together riding against each other. He was a great character and a great man.”

Gerald Mosse was close to tears as he recounted: “When I heard the news it really shocked me. We lose one of the best ever people on this planet in my eyes.

“He was a model figure, and no one will ever do what he did. He was a proper man and a top-class jockey worldwide.

“It was an honour to be a guy that he talked to. We were great friends.”

Johnson and Scudamore hail double century hero Hughes

Richard Johnson and Peter Scudamore have led the tributes to Brian Hughes, who is now part of an exclusive club of jump jockeys to ride 200 winners in a season.

Hughes, 36, joins the pair in the 200 club, along with Sir Anthony McCoy, as the only riders to have achieved the remarkable feat.

Johnson, who first reached the 200-winner mark in the 2015-2016 season (recording 235 in total) before reaching 201 winners in 2018-19, hopes Hughes will receive the adulation he deserves when he is officially crowned champion jockey on bet365 Gold Cup Day at Sandown on Saturday.

“He is getting his just rewards from many years of hard work,” said Johnson.

Richard Johnson with his jockeys' championship trophy
Richard Johnson with his jockeys’ championship trophy (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“Actually, it will be lovely for him at Sandown, with all the crowds back, to be crowned champion jockey properly.

“Unfortunately, two years ago, with the lockdown, he wasn’t able to have that. For me, that was one of the highlights of the year, when you could go there with your family and friends and you’d almost enjoy the hard work of the last 12 months.”

It will be an extra-special moment for Hughes, who will be surrounded by his family including wife Luci and children Rory and Olivia, particularly after the heartbreak of last year’s title chase.

The Northern Irishman, who was spurred on to become a jockey by fellow countrymen Richard Dunwoody, McCoy and Tony Dobbin, was on course to win the title and led Harry Skelton by 21 wins at the end of January, but ended up being beaten by 10 (152-142).

This season, he has quietly gone about his business, with Donald McCain supplying over 100 of his winners, and Johnson feels the formidable partnership will be hard to stop.

Johnson said: “You always want to ride as many winners as possible. Sometimes, when you are flat out every day, working hard, if you are not riding the big winners on a Saturday it gets missed.

“But saying that, I don’t think it will worry Brian. He is having a fantastic season and both he and Don McCain are a real force, and I’m sure they will go from strength to strength.

“Brian gets on with everyone and it is as easy for him to go to Ayr on a Monday as it is to go to Haydock on a Saturday – I think it is very important for a champion to work hard all year round, and that is exactly what Brian does.

“You need to have a good, consistent season to reach that number. It gave me a huge boost when I was able to do it.”

Scudamore was the first to reach the 200 mark, recording a total of 221 winners from just 662 rides in 1988-89 when the season was 10 months long, rather than 12 as it is now, having had the backing of the incomparable Martin Pipe.

Peter Scudamore with his jockey son, Tom
Peter Scudamore with his jockey son, Tom (Mike Egerton/PA)

The eight-time champion believes it is harder for a northern-based rider to win the title, much less ride a double century of winners.

Scudamore said: “I had the opportunity to do it and stay fit. It is amazingly tough and Brian has my utmost admiration.

“It is hard for a northern-based jockey, although Jonjo (O’Neill), Ron Barry, Tony Dobbin and Graham Lee have done it successfully at that level, so you have to take your hat off to them.

“There are not too many who have achieved 200 winners, and it is an amazing achievement.

“The only thing I remember when I was riding, on a selfish, personal note, when I first started people would have been immensely happy with 100 winners, so we never thought it was achievable.

“I remember meeting Cash Asmussen at Ascot and we were the first people of that era to ride 200 winners in Europe. I don’t think even the Flat jockeys managed more than 150 or 180 winners.

“I would say it, wouldn’t I, but it is quite a big achievement.

“It is relentless, it is a grind, it is the consistency. I just hope Brian gets the accolades he deserves.

“He has been around a long time, and I have had a huge admiration for what he has done.”

McCoy raised the bar when the jumps season went year-round, reaching the 200-winners mark nine times in his two-decade reign as champion jockey between 1996 and 2015.

As he had done when previously helping make Scudamore and Richard Dunwoody champions, Pipe supplied many of McCoy’s winners during that period.

Martin Pipe rewrote the record books
Martin Pipe rewrote the record books (Daniel Hambury/PA)

Pipe was quick to acknowledge Hughes’ achievement in becoming champion jockey for a second time and reaching 200 winners.

He said: “It is terrific. Donald McCain has done extremely well, training over 150 winners and Brian has done fantastic. He is a very good jockey and it is just all about hard work and perseverance.

“You have got to have the horses of course, but equally you have to have the talent, obviously.

“It is a major achievement and it is absolutely fantastic for Brian. It is great to see him banging the winners in.

“There is a lot more racing now, but it is still fantastic to ride 200 winners. It is brilliant. It is a grind and that perseverance takes a lot. I take my hat off to him.”

Richard Dunwoody was an inspiration to a young Brian Hughes
Richard Dunwoody was an inspiration to a young Brian Hughes (Rebecca Naden/PA)

Three-times champion Dunwoody, whose best was 197 winners in a titanic title battle with Adrian Maguire in the 1993-94 season, also added to the tributes.

He said: “It is a great achievement. I nearly got there once, so I appreciate what it takes.

“It is a pity he doesn’t get more class rides, whether it is something he might want to focus on in the future, I don’t know.

“But if you are going that way, you probably have to say goodbye to the championship. Regardless, he has done brilliantly and I’m delighted for him.”

No sign of Martin Pipe conforming even after all these years

Perhaps it is to be expected, given the character involved.

Of all the heavyweight trainers over the past 50 years, Martin Pipe has always been a southpaw.

Wired just that little bit differently, with no hint of flim or flam, Pipe was double-squiggle quirky. Still is.

Gone are the days of riding an undersized bicycle around his stable. There are not too many table tennis champions as assistant trainers, either.

Yet Pipe still has the ability to wrong-foot and blindside you, as he did when announcing he was retiring on the morning that Paul Nicholls would win his first trainers’ championship at the end of the 2005-06 season.

Nearing the end of a fascinating reflection on the Freddie Starr-owned Miinnehoma, Pipe’s sole Grand National winner, he floors you with an insight into how his brain works.

“Miinnehoma lived until the age of 29 and is buried on our farm,” said Pipe. “And I am hoping one day a university will dig him up and put him back together. To see all the bones put together… that would be fantastic!”

Most mortals would settle for a statue.

Pipe has always been a revolutionary and controversial character. He ripped up the record books with a ruthlessness that brought jealousy from many quarters.

He introduced training innovations such as blood tests, meticulous record-keeping – which allowed him to fastidiously chronicle his horses’ health – and interval training, setting the blueprint for modern training regimes.

He made three champion jockeys – Peter Scudamore, Richard Dunwoody and AP McCoy – and another potential champ, David Bridgwater, left because he could not handle the demands placed upon him.

Pipe, son of a bookmaker, dominated National Hunt racing from the late 1980s through to his retirement on the grounds of ill health.

Yet few could go to-to-toe with him and survive for too long.

The prime example was Dunwoody. He and Pipe never really saw eye to eye. Theirs was a professional liaison. Champions both, they made excruciatingly uncomfortable bedfellows.

In the early 1990s, both were at the peak of their powers. The ultra-serious jockey and unorthodox trainer were each, in their own way, bedevilled in their search for the next winner.

Martin Pipe blazed a trail with revolutionary training methods
Martin Pipe blazed a trail with revolutionary training methods (Daniel Hambury/PA)

Yet while their mutual quest to find an edge was so razor sharp that any relationship they had eventually died a death, there is one thing that they both agree on – Miinnehoma gave them a moment to cherish.

Miinnehoma had been sent to Pipe by Starr, as an unbroken three-year-old from the Doncaster sales and he was notoriously challenging.

“Freddie sent him to me and one of the first things he said was he wanted to win the Grand National. Those were his instructions,” said Pipe.

“I said to him, ‘hang on a minute, he has got to jump a fence first’. He had only won a bumper and not even seen a hurdle.

“He was very difficult to ride as he was very, very playful. He had to go in the sand ring. Sometimes he would go in there and he would put you on the floor.

“There was never any harm in him, he was quiet as a lamb really, once you got on him… and once you stayed on him!

“It was just at the start of every season when he would play up. He was very playful.”

Freddie Starr with 1994 Grand National winner Miinnehoma
Freddie Starr with 1994 Grand National winner Miinnehoma (David Jones/PA)

He also had the guts and class to match his spirited character.

Under the genius of the Pond House maestro, Miinnehoma became a high-class chaser, who justified favouritism in the SunAlliance Chase (now Brown Advisory) in a then-record time under Scudamore, and finished third in the Welsh National.

“I don’t think people realised how good he was, really,” said Pipe. “He won the Philip Cornes Hurdle at Newbury over three miles, beating Remittance Man, won the SunAlliance Chase, beating Bradbury Star, then he was second in the Rehearsal Chase at Chepstow, second to Captain Dibble at Ascot and third to Run For Free in the Welsh National.”

Yet by April 9, 1994, injuries and age had seemingly caught up with him – certainly in the minds of the betting public – when he arrived at Aintree at the age of 11.

“He had a pelvic problem,” Pipe remembered.

Pulled up behind Sibton Abbey at Cheltenham in January 1993, he did not reappear again until March the following year.

“We got a back team and pelvic team on him, including Mary Bromiley, who worked marvels – she was the one who sorted Carvill’s Hill out as well,” added Pipe.

“Our vets were very good and then he won first time out at Newbury over two and a half miles, beating Forest Sun, and he went on to the Gold Cup and he was seventh there (to The Fellow), with Adrian Maguire on board.

“I thought he ran OK, actually. He ran a half-decent race and then he went to the National.”

Dunwoody was one of the most stylish jockeys in history and few have a better record in the National
Dunwoody was one of the most stylish jockeys in history and few have a better record in the National (John Giles)

Dunwoody said: “It was only the second time I’d ridden him. I had won a handicap at Newbury with him.

“He provided me with one of my greatest highlights, because his success was so unexpected.”

Pipe laughed and added: “I don’t know what Richard was expecting, but we fancied him.

“Chester Barnes (assistant trainer and former table tennis champion) tipped him on the (‘Pipeline’) tipping line and napped him at 16-1. We did fancy him. He stayed all day.”

Pipe used to ride his bike around his Nicholashayne yard
Pipe used to ride his bike around his Nicholashayne yard (Barry Batchelor/PA)

Bar one minor mishap the race went smoothly for Dunwoody.

“At Becher’s the second time round, he pecked badly on landing. But apart from that, I could not get over how well he travelled throughout,” he said.

“Moorcroft Boy jumped the last in the lead, but he stopped in a matter of strides. He had hit the wall and if anything we had got there too soon.

“The loose horse in front of us was causing a bit of an issue, although I expected him to give us a lead, but he ducked away and I got an almighty shock when Simon Burrough on Just So arrived there at my girth.

“I was panicking a bit, but my horse picked up well and went on to win.”

The 16-1 shot had a length and a quarter to spare over Just So, with the 5-1 favourite Moorcroft Boy a further 20 lengths back in third.

Miinnehoma’s owner was not on hand to see it, however.

Pipe added: “We flew him down on the Sunday, as all the Press were here. He obviously enjoyed it. He didn’t come down very much.

“He probably regretted not being there, as he loved his racing. He was over the moon when he won, of course.

“He was ecstatic. It was a dream come true for him and for me. It was the second National Richard won. I think Richard appreciated that win more than his first.”

Dunwoody said: “You never forget your first National. Though winning with West Tip earlier was a big thrill, Miinnehoma’s victory came at a stage in my career when I was better able to enjoy and appreciate it.”

Pipe, who retired with 15 trainers’ championships between 1988-89 and 2004-05, will be 77 in May.

Just one of his 4,183 European winners was victorious in the Aintree marathon.

Pipe said: “To win the National is everything. It is great. There is nothing like it.

“It was unbelievable for anybody. You only get one go a year.

“Miinnehoma was also third in the Gold Cup the following year. He was very good.”

As was Pipe. Perhaps, someday, they will erect a statue to him. Or would that be a tad too conventional?

‘He was a perfectionist’ – Dunwoody tribute to retiring David Elsworth

Three times champion jump jockey described David Elsworth as a “perfectionist” as he paid tribute to the highly-successful dual-purpose handler, who announced his retirement on Wednesday after five decades in the training ranks.

Dunwoody rode plenty of big-race winners for Elsworth before his retirement through injury in 2000, but is best remembered for partnering Desert Orchid to victory in two of his four King George VI Chase victories, an Irish Grand National, and an incredible weight-carrying performance in the Racing Post Chase.

“This will be a huge loss to the training ranks. Elsie was always very, very astute,” said Dunwoody, a dual Grand National-winning rider.

“It was great riding for him. I really enjoyed riding for him and we had some good winners together.

“Luckily for me, owner Richard Burridge was the main driving force to get me the ride on Desert Orchid and the ‘Duke’ (David Nicholson) helped, letting me become available. I will always be grateful to them for that.

“Riding for Elsie was always very straightforward. He used to say, ‘You know him now, get on with it’.

“Astute is the word. He was a perfectionist, but he had a gift of knowing a horse inside out.”

While Desert Orchid landed a Cheltenham Gold Cup and fans were guaranteed a glorious white Christmas as he was a standing dish at Kempton on Boxing Day, Dunwoody has long felt that the grey’s best effort came on February 24, 1990, at the Sunbury track, when an 11-year-old.

“I still think that the top performance Desert Orchid put in was the then-Listed Racing Post Chase, with all that weight. Almost as soon as I got off, Elsie said, ‘I wish today would have been Gold Cup day’.

“He had him absolutely on song that day. It was some performance. He carried 12st 6lb with a penalty, and he was giving two stone and upwards to the likes of class horses like Delius, Ballyhane, who was a decent horse, Solidasarock, who ran some great races, Twin Oaks and Seagram, and he produced an absolutely unbelievable performance. It was a quick-run three miles on good ground as well.

“Elsie has always called a spade a spade, but I really enjoyed going down to Whitsbury Manor Stables and riding for him – although every time I went to ride work Desert Orchid always p***** off with me, but we were all ready for that.

“Elsie was always to the point. There were a couple of times I had to get off Desert Orchid because the Duke was going to run something else or go somewhere else, and Elsie was very good about it. He said, ‘Don’t worry, he is only going there for a run. You’re fine’.

“He knew his horses so well. He is a proper, proper horseman and I had nothing but respect for the way he handled his horses.

“It shows with those horses like Barnbrook Again, In The Groove, Persian Punch and plenty more what a great exponent of this craft he was.”

“His overall management of Desert Orchid was second to none. He loved the old horse as well. I’ve nothing but good words to say about David Elsworth, he is a true legend and I wish him a happy retirement.”