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A Century Of Racing: Geniuses, giants and grandees; John Randall On The 100 Makers Of 20th-Century Racing Part Four: 20-11.

In the fourth of a five-part series which identifies the 100 people and horses who have most influenced British racing since 1900, today those ranked from 20 to 11 are assessed

20. VINCENT O'BRIEN

b.1917 Trainer

During his 52-year career (1943-94) Michael Vincent O'Brien became both the greatest jump trainer and the greatest Flat trainer of his time.

The softly spoken Irishman dominated the jumping scene like no-one else before or since, recording hat-tricks in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (with Cottage Rake), the Champion Hurdle (with Hatton's Grace) and, uniquely, the Grand National before switching to the Flat.

The champions O'Brien sent out from Ballydoyle to conquer Europe, most of them ridden by Lester Piggott, included Ballymoss, Sir Ivor, Thatch, The Minstrel, Golden Fleece, El Gran Senor and, above all, Triple Crown hero Nijinsky and dual Arc winner Alleged. He won 16 British Classics including six Derbys, and horses owned by the O'Brien-Robert Sangster syndicate, many of them sired by Northern Dancer, dominated European racing for nearly a decade until the advent of the Arabs.

Sangster once said: "He almost goes into a trance studying a yearling. I've watched him in the heat of Kentucky at over 100 degrees in the shade standing looking at a horse for a quarter of an hour. He's visualising what it's going to be like as a three-year-old. He can see the future better than anyone."

19. Sir LESLIE PEPPIATT

1891-1968 Committee chairman

Though not a racing man, Sir Leslie Peppiatt was the father of the betting levy, ensuring that bookmakers return to racing some of the profits which the sport generates for them.

A prominent solicitor, Sir Leslie was in 1959 appointed chairman of a Home Office committee set up to consider whether, and how, bookmakers should contribute to racing. At the time a Bill was passing through Parliament which became the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, legalising betting shops, and the Government feared opposition to it if no levy were promised.

The 1960 Peppiatt Report's recommendation that a levy be imposed was implemented in the Horserace Betting Levy Act 1961, which set up the Levy Board to collect contributions from bookmakers and the Tote, and apply them to the general good of racing. The Act also reconstituted the RBCB as the Horserace Totalisator Board.

The Dictionary of National Biography says of Peppiatt: "He deliberately cultivated the character of a simple man not readily capable of understanding or indeed very interested in the technical and tortuous aspects of the issues with which he had to deal." Yet his legacy to racing was beneficial and far-reaching.

18. FEDERICO TESIO

1869-1954 Owner-breeder

Perhaps the only genius ever to operate in the breeding world, Federico Tesio was not merely the greatest single figure in the history of Italian racing and the breeder of Ribot, but he also sold several important stallions to stand in Britain, notably Nearco.

Tesio founded the Razza Dormello in 1898 and was unique among the great owner-breeders in training his horses himself. Starting with very limited resources, he produced 22 winners of the Italian Derby and three of them, Apelle, Donatello and Nearco, became influential sires in Britain. When he sold Nearco in 1938, that great unbeaten champion became the most important equine import of the century into Britain.

He died just before the debut of his masterpiece, Ribot, who was unbeaten in 16 races including the Arc twice and the King George, and was champion sire in Britain three times. Two of Donatello's sons, Alycidon and Crepello, also became champion sire.

John Hislop wrote: "When those of my generation come to be asked by their grandchildren, 'Who was the greatest breeder, the outstanding sire, the best racehorse of your time?' the answer will probably be 'Tesio, Nearco, Ribot.'"

17. Sir GORDON RICHARDS

1904-86 Jockey

Statistically the greatest British jockey of all time, Gordon Richards bestrode the sport like a colossus for more than 20 years and, by his skill, integrity, consistency and longevity in the saddle, and his attractive personality, he brought more credit to his profession than any other jockey has ever done.

The son of a Shropshire coal-miner, he set records by becoming champion jockey 26 times between 1925 and 1953 and winning 4,870 races in Britain (1921-54) including 269 in one season (1947) and 12 in succession (in 1933).

During his associations with Fred Darling and Noel Murless he won the fillies' Triple Crown on Sun Chariot, the 2,000 Guineas by a record margin on Tudor Minstrel, and many top sprints on Abernant. In Coronation week 1953 he became the only jockey ever to receive a knighthood and, at his 28th and final attempt, won the Derby on Pinza. He became a successful trainer.

Quintin Gilbey described "The most beautiful scene in the world: Gordon Richards, leading by two lengths with a hundred yards to go and his whip still swinging, when you have had twice your limit on him and four times as much as you can afford to lose."

16. HYPERION

1930-60 Sire

Hyperion was the most successful British-bred sire of the century, and no other stallion since St Simon has either won so many sires' championships or got so many top-quality runners consistently over a period of more than 20 years.

Bred and owned by Lord Derby and trained for two of his three racing seasons by George Lambton, the small (15.11/2 hands) son of Gainsborough won nine of his 13 races. He proved himself the greatest champion of the first half of the century, and a very popular one, by his stunning victories in the Derby and St Leger of 1933, before embarking on his second career at Woodland Stud, Newmarket.

He was champion sire six times between 1940 and 1954 and his offspring won 11 Classics in only seven years from 1940, thanks mainly to Godiva, Owen Tudor (Derby) and Sun Chariot (fillies' Triple Crown). Of his many stallion sons, Aureole became champion in Britain and Heliopolis in America, where Alibhai and Khaled were also outstandingly successful.

When Hyperion died at the age of 30, his owner and some friends drank to his memory from a bottle originally opened in honour of Sir Winston Churchill. Derby called them: "The two greatest Grand Old Men of our time."

15. BILL WHITBREAD

1900-94 Sponsor

Bill Whitbread, instigator of the Whitbread Gold Cup, was racing's first modern commercial sponsor and paved the way for the current level of sponsorship, without which the sport would be much poorer.

A life-long enthusiast for jump racing and owner of the great two-mile chaser Dunkirk, Whitbread was alert to the advertising possibilities opened up by televised racing and in 1957 he conceived the idea of a valuable handicap chase to be run at Sandown in April and sponsored by the family brewery of which he was chairman. The Whitbread Gold Cup was an immediate success, becoming firmly entrenched as the last big prize of the jump season and, in its early years, attracting the very best chasers.

Commercial sponsorship existed in the 19th century, but Whitbread was a modern-day pioneer (he also inaugurated the Mackeson Gold Cup in 1960) and other businessmen soon followed his example.

John Oaksey wrote of his friend: "The stream of which his brainchild was the source has now become a flood, surging all winter long and swelling National Hunt prize-money to a level which, without commercial sponsorship, it would never have achieved."

14. JOHN SCHAPIRO

b.1914 Impresario

A new era opened with the inaugural running of the Washington DC International in 1952; the increasingly international nature of the sport is the most significant development in modern racing, and John Schapiro did more than anyone else to encourage it through the race he founded and promoted.

Schapiro, manager of Laurel Park, Maryland, was alert to the possibilities opened up by the air transport of horses, and in 1952 he announced a 12-furlong turf race to which champions from around the world would be invited. He made sure the visitors had a fair chance and the very first Washington DC International was won by Newmarket-trained Wilwyn, thus pushing back for ever the horizons for British horses.

The father of international racing was a global ambassador for the sport for more than 30 years; other early winners of his race came from France, Venezuela and Australia, and its success inspired many imitations.

Quintin Gilbey wrote of Schapiro: "This most likeable of men has done more to promote good relations between the United States and the rest of the world than all the politicians in Washington."

13. Sir HENRY WILLINK

1894-1973 Committee chairman

The single most important piece of legislation affecting British racing has been the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, which legalised betting shops run by bookmakers rather than create an off-course Tote monopoly, and it was based on the report by a Royal Commission headed by Henry Willink.

A barrister, Tory MP and wartime Minister of Health, Willink was in 1949 appointed chairman of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming which delivered its report in 1951. The subsequent decade has been called racing's great lost opportunity, the period when a Tote monopoly might have been secured to the everlasting benefit of the sport's finances, yet in the 1950s there was very little desire in the racing world or in Parliament for such a monopoly.

After detailed negotiations between the Home Office, the Jockey Club and leading bookmakers, the Willink Report's proposal that betting shops be legalised was implemented in the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, which in turn paved the way for a betting levy.

It is difficult to exaggerate the legacy left to the sport by this non-racing man, who was known to his close friends as "Happy Hearted Harry".

12. BULL HANCOCK

1910-72 Breeder

By purchasing many of the best European stallion and broodmare prospects, notably Nasrullah, Arthur Boyd Hancock jr did as much as anyone to shift the balance of power in international breeding towards America.

He took over from his father and namesake (who had imported Sir Gallahad and Blenheim) at Claiborne Farm, Kentucky, in the mid-1940s, and became a master at selecting stallion prospects and syndicating them. Nasrullah, whom he bought from Joe McGrath in Ireland in 1950, was champion sire five times and his offspring included Nashua, Bold Ruler (champion sire eight times) and Never Bend, the sire of Mill Reef and Riverman.

The other champion sires Hancock stood at Claiborne were Princequillo; Ambiorix, whom he bought from Marcel Boussac; and Round Table, whose dam he purchased at Newmarket sales. This stallion promoter personified the brash, dynamic, commercial approach to breeding.

Peter Willett wrote of him: "Bull was the biggest man, physically speaking, in the thoroughbred industry of his day, and towered above most of his contemporaries in professional ability and the dominance of his personality."

11. FREDERICK CATHCART

1859-1934 Impresario

Frederick Cathcart guided the fortunes of Cheltenham racecourse during the most momentous period of change in its history, and paved the way for it to become the headquarters of steeplechasing.

The son of a professional comedian, he joined Pratt & Co in 1895 and eventually became the senior partner of that firm, which was in charge of managing several racecourses. He was particularly associated with Cheltenham, where for many years he was first the clerk of the course, and then chairman.

The National Hunt meeting did not find a permanent home at Cheltenham until 1911, but under Cathcart's direction it was expanded from two days to three, and both the Gold Cup (1924) and the Champion Hurdle (1927) were inaugurated. His brother and nephew were also clerks of the course there, and the Cathcart Chase is named after the family.

Jump racing has had no finer servant, and one obituary stated: "He was indefatigable in his efforts to increase the popularity and public appeal of the race meetings with which he was associated . . . Much of the success of the 'chasing at Cheltenham was due to Mr Cathcart's energy and enterprise."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Randall, John
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Aug 23, 1999
Words:2007
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