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Fitting farewell for retiring starter Rees; FORMER GOLD CUP-WINNING JOCKEY BOWS OUT AT SANDOWN.

STARTER Bill Rees will call in the runners for the last time at Sandown's high-class meeting tomorrow, bringing down the curtain on a career in racing that began more than 50 years ago, when he started out as an apprentice rider at the age of 14.

Today is the former Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning jockey's 65th birthday, and the Esher track provides him with a fitting arena to bid farewell.

He might not have collared many of its big races, but he rode plenty of winners there, including several of the 60-plus he partnered for the Queen Mother, and he rates it among his favourite tracks.

Rees, whose father Bill and uncle Dick shone over the sticks between the wars, was one of Britain's finest jump jockeys 10 years either side of his Cheltenham Gold Cup success on Pas Seul in 1960, but the last few seasons were dogged by serious injury.

When he decided it was time to move on, his father-in-law Bob Turnell encouraged Rees to go for the job of starter.

Having just turned 39, Rees's initial reluctance was understandable. This was 1973, when most Jockey Club officials boasted a locker full of military titles.

"At first I didn't apply, because I didn't think I would get it, but then I decided to have a go. I'm pleased I did," he says. "There was no trouble fitting in with the other officials," he adds, without being entirely convincing that he would tell the world even if the situation had been any different.

If the mark of a good official is that no-one notices him, Rees is up with the best.

"For the jumps, it's more relaxed," he says. "There's a lot more work involved on the Flat, going through the horses, noting the draw, the ones who have to go late into the stalls, those that have to be blindfolded. But it's not a difficult job."

That's another sign of an efficient operator-he doesn't dismiss the job, but nor does he over-estimate it.

From tomorrow his job of race starting will pass elsewhere, for Rees has decided against joining the Jockey Club's rollcall of part-timers.

Certain he will miss those working in the sport-"but not the travelling, which is the worst part of the job and getting worse"-Rees takes his professionalism right up to the final barrier.

He reasons: "If you take one or two days' work, you could get rusty, and I wouldn't want to make a mess of things."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Wright, Howard
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jan 8, 1999
Words:415
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