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Best Mate giving all right signs for Kempton countdown.

Byline: Rodney Masters

WITH the rumbustious chuckle that is his trademark, Terry Biddlecombe is describing in graphic detail what the stripper requested him to do with the hoof oil at Henrietta Knight's staff Christmas party.

As he tells his tale, the trainer is joining in the laughter until, that is, the former champion jockey gets a little too saucy.

She thrusts an elbow to his ribs and reminds him they should be talking about the Pertemps King George VI Chase.

Knight and Biddlecombe found one another late in life, but this is obviously a relationship that is a match for the best. "I believe I was a hero of Hen's when I was a jockey," he says. She raises her eyebrows.

Arm tucked in arm, the couple are seated on a bale of straw opposite their early Georgian farmhouse, near Wantage in Oxfordshire. They are winding down after Best Mate has completed, trouble free, his final serious workout before his sternest test so far on Boxing Day.

Best Mate was back safely in his box, positioned at the end of a row of four within view of the trainer's kitchen window.

Although a late frost had coated everything a twinkling white-"there was no ice when we first poked our heads out at 5.15 this morning," says Terry-it was perfectly safe to exercise on grass and Best Mate completed a mile with Stars Out Tonight.

Looking magnificent and stretching out impressively, Best Mate is not quite a match for the hare racing upsides in the final climb to the summit of the gallop alongside the Ridgeway, the oldest pathway in Europe. As the horses circle round, he gives two sneezes which, according to the trainer, is a good sign.

Knight was brought up on the estate, and she is at her happiest here. She confesses that she hates having to go to the races.

"I much prefer to be at home with the horses, but a trainer has to be part of the racecourse scene and talk to people there. I have to pull myself together and face things.

"When the King George is being run I'll be standing in about the only place at Kempton where the commentary cannot be heard. Silly isn't it, but that's me.

"All along I've been against running Best Mate in the King George, but he has to run because the owner wants him to run. I'd rather see him at Wincanton, but the final decision was with the owner."

Unlike most other trainers, there is never a string of horses emerging from West Lockinge Farm. They go out in pairs in various directions on the near-4,000 acre Lockinge Estate, the trainer reasoning that horses are more relaxed that way.

The morning was not to be without drama, however. After Best Mate had worked, the next pair up the grass included Cape Stormer, a six-year-old gelding who is from the same family as Jodami.

With a faithful impression of a pirouette, he dumps work-rider Jonathan Hatch. Cape Stormer rockets for home, and a scowling Biddlecombe sets off in pursuit in his 4x4.

"Although they've been friends forever, I fear that Terry is about to kill him,"

warns Knight. "He's always telling him

not to ride so short."

With most of the roads on the estate restricted to private use, with no other traffic bar the odd tractor, runaways generally come to little harm and within five minutes horse and jockey are reunited. "I thought you could effing well ride Hatchy, what the hell were you doing?" was Hatch's first greeting from Biddlecombe.

Tomorrow, Best Mate will have a blow on David Gandolfo's gallop, and on Monday his big-race jockey Tony McCoy will school him.

Earlier this week, Knight was looking at horses in Ireland when she was approached by a man who said when they had first met in the 1980s she was about to set up as a public trainer. She told him her ambition was to have a stable full of horses of the same quality as the Dickinson family then had under their care. So it was to be.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Dec 21, 2001
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