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A rare breed of character; Freud's Breakfast With The Trainers: Jenny Pitman.

JENNY PITMAN, race-horse trainer of Upper Lambourn in Berkshire, boomed down the telephone: "Don't expect anything fancy for breakfast; we eat black pudding and potatoes." I said I liked black pudding and thanked her for inviting me.

English trainers are no longer a predictable race: in my youth they were male, largely inbred, had titles or at least hyphenated names and army ranks, with the odd country land-owner to make up the number. (Not so in the United States; in the 1960s the winningest trainer was the son of an immigrant garment worker from the Bronx who sold his racing pigeons and bought a horse with the proceeds. The beast performed so well that he went into partnership with a man who had money. He ran his horses when they were ready, regardless of the quality of the race. He maintained: "If I have the best horse, I don't need to employ the best jockey." And perhaps Hirsch Jacobs' most memorable quote was: "Why run a horse five furlongs at 6am for laughs when you can run him six furlongs at 3pm for US$10,000.")

I digress. Jenny Pitman, who has been ill and was arguably overweight, is now fit and well and blooming; she has a new husband though she remains her own woman.

The Pitman house is old, goodish-sized with a number of small rooms-one being the dining room.

There are trophies and photographs, a framed Trainer of the Year award and the parchment scroll appointing her an Officer of the British Empire; less predictably, some glass walking sticks and a cabinet of crystal, more than you would expect a teetotaller to possess.

The oval dining table just about seats eight, is nicely laid for six with over a dozen slices of toast arranged around the side, what John Cleese would call ex-toast.

In the middle of the table is HP sauce, tomato ketchup, mustards, Marmite and a small basin into which Golden Shred marmalade has been unloaded.

There are also eight containers of "substances" (no Jockey Club rules against trainers' substance-intake).

I note Inosine, Seven Seas One-a-Day, Glucosamine, Ginseng, Echinacea, Ginkgo Biloba, St John's Wort and Bloflavonalds.

A knock on the dining room door. The trainer says: "Come in" and her house-man in a white jacket such as is worn by bowls players in Skegness brings in our breakfasts: Jenny's and her husband's Dave; mine and my photographer Edward's and those of assistant trainer Paul Price and local, charismatic vet Charles Schreiber.

The plates are five inches in diameter and mine contains a handsome sausage proudly balanced on some heated-up Italian skinned plum tomatoes, a fried egg, a slice of short back bacon, mushrooms and two pieces of black pudding.

Jenny's plate contains mostly tomatoes . . . which she strews with sugar, which is gastronomically a good move. My sausage is outstanding; Edward, on the drive home, says he liked his a lot also.

Jenny Pitman is that unusual mixture of country-woman, egotist, good mother, bully, excellent at what she does.

Where she differs from former Prime Minister Thatcher is that she wears her heart on her sleeve and has never tried to assume the lordliness of her fellow professionals; on the contrary . . .

She is the daughter of a small farmer from Market Harborough, rode once in a point-to-point at Melton "a fortnight before my 15th birthday; fell off but was well enough to run away from the approaching ambulancemen".

There is a knock on the door. The house-man enters to say: "I'm sorry to disturb you Mrs P, there's a man here about the hand-rail." She follows him into the kitchen where I see the postman having a cup of tea.

The vet leaves for nearby stables, assistant trainer goes out with second lot and Jenny returns after a while with a packet of cigarettes. I explain about me and smoke. She very decently puts away her Silk Cuts, does not refer to them again.

We talk about her and food and home and life: of the family she says: "The greatest support parents can give is love and common sense."

Of the house man: "He has been a pastry chef; I don't interfere; I cook meat better than him. My brother is a butcher." We agree about oxtail and ribs of beef, neither of us happy with what the Government did.

CAVIAR, she says, is her favourite food. "Don't get me wrong, I'm not showing off. We went to Russia and all they had was caviar and I got used to it."

She eats her roast beef rare, insists on "proper Yorkshire pudding, not those individual ones that have no character", and she is unkeen on fish and sweets, but likes Stilton cheese which comes from near where she came from. She is not a drinker "sometimes a Bloody Mary on holiday" and she is not a gambler, does not bet, not now.

Did you ever?

I once had pounds 500 to win on The A Train in a Warwick bumper; The Sporting Life gave its odds as 8-1 in its forecast so I telephoned an owner and asked him to put on the bet. I got paid at 5-4. Never again."

Thursdays, she says, are easy days; "usually we have jockeys and three sets of owners". There are 68 horses in her stables; she tells me that makes 3.79 horses per lad.

She rebukes me for not giving someone an autograph at Market Rasen 25 years ago but on the whole prefers me to Julian Wilson: "I would sooner kiss Garrison Savannah's arse than speak to him."

This seemed a good time to leave the ex-toast on the table and go out to see Garrison Savannah, known as Gary: he is 18 years old, clearly loves his trainer, would win the best-turned-out anywhere and eats mints with enthusiasm. I make the right noises and when we leave, Jenny Pitman waves goodbye almost as if she had enjoyed the meeting.
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Title Annotation:Sports
Author:Freud, Clement
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 16, 1998
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