Friday, May 25, 2012

A Knight's chivalric retirement

Yesterday Henrietta Catherine Knight called time on a training career that saw her win three consecutive Gold Cups with Best Mate (2002-4) and the 2000 Champion Chase with Edredon Bleu; owned by Jim Lewis, those horses also won the King George VI Chase for her in 2002 and 2003.

Knight came into racing through a somewhat circuitous route.

Having gained her BEd (Oxon) qualification at Westminster College, Oxford, she taught biology and history at St Mary's School, Wantage, before embarking on a career trainng racehorses. Her first winner under rules was The Grey Gunner at Bangor-On-Dee in 1989, Bruce Dowling up; in 1995 she married former jockey Terry Biddlecombe and the partnership went to the very top of the profession, becoming affectionately known as racing's 'Odd Couple'.

In November 2005 stable star Best Mate collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack after being pulled up in the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. The quest to find a replacement was doomed to fail and led to a split with ambitious Jim Lewis.

Biddlecombe suffered a stroke in 2011 - it's Terry's continued ill health that is behind Hen's decision to hand in her licence. The vast majority of horses will transfer to Mick Channon who trains nearby at West Ilsley.

Over the years I came to associate the yard with well-schooled novice chasers, with a preference for using riders you'd lean to calling horsemen rather than jockeys. A couple of personal memories from the gaff tracks ...

Young Warrior (Bruce Dowling) won me some money one sodden New Year's Day at Exeter in the early nineties. There had been a market move for a horse of David Elsworth's, Seven Of Diamonds, and that one came to win the race but took a heavy fall at the last. Young Warrior collected but Seven Of Diamonds spent a fair while on the floor before eventually rising to a round of applause from the enclosures.

Another run that sticks in my mind is that of Blowing Rock (Jim Culloty) in a novices' handicap chase at Hereford in October 1998. We'd taken 9/2 and the horse had jumped well, gaining ground over his opponents at most of the obstacles. Three out Culloty sent the Strong Gale gelding on; the form book reads '... 5 lengths clear and in control when fell last, unlucky...'

Hen is set to have her final runner in next few days; it could be Harvest Song, owned by HRH The Queen, entered up in the 2.30 at Newton Abbot on Wednesday. That would be some finale - in Derby week, Hen Knight trains winner for The Queen - at Newton Abbot!

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