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Byline: Alastair Down

LORD GRIMTHORPE sounds like the name of some ferocious, flint-hearted Dickensian villain who can be found glugging fine claret in front of a roaring fire while his impoverished factory workers do 18-hour shifts and have one day off a month when they are allowed a crust of mouldy bread washed down by a pint of puddle water. But when Prince Khalid Abdullah's racing manager Teddy Beckett succeeded to the title he proved a huge disappointment as there is nothing in the least bit grim about him. An avuncular figure and notably genial for a man who spends a lot of time dealing with the press, Grimthorpe is straightforward and, in a sport not short of backbiters, genuinely popular across a wide spectrum of folk.

He is in his 12th season working for Abdullah's extraordinarily successful breeding and racing empire, having taken over from Grant Pritchard-Gordon in 1999. Grimthorpe says: "The prince is a very private man, and protecting that privacy is paramount. But we also have a duty to inform the public about our horses for the benefit of racing as a whole.

"Some of the big players on the Flat are criticised for not talking enough about their horses. But it's far easier for jumps people to speak plainly because they have no commercial interests to protect. You can say something about a horse needing a trip, or allude to a wind problem, and find yourself misquoted forever to the effect that a stallion's progeny are all slow and can't breathe, whereas nothing could be further from the truth. Yet the mud sticks."

Grimthorpe has a serious insight into racing but his geniality is never far below the surface and he relates a tale about the sale of a colt called Meteor Storm who was in training with Criquette Head. He says: "He was a decent three-year-old, but we sold him to the States and as a four-year-old he won a Group 1 in California.

"I duly reported this fact to the prince in his capacity as ex-owner and he asked me 'who sold the horse? Was it you or Grant Pritchard-Gordon?' "I said 'it was that chap in between, Teddy Beckett, but don't worry, sir, he's gone now'."

Beckett is descended from the first Lord Grimthorpe, a remarkable Victorian who was a QC, architect and amateur horologist. He says: "He invented a thing called the 'double three-legged gravity escapement' which was used for the great clock of Westminster we call Big Ben, although that is the name of the bell. It made the clock accurate to one second instead of three. He was an exceptional man, though quite cantankerous," a fact backed up by a quote from the first Lord Grimthorpe who once said: "I am the only architect with whom I have never quarrelled."

Sadly for Beckett there is no 87-bedroomed Grimthorpe Palace full of priceless heirlooms. He says: "At some stage the family gave away 452 acres for Beckett Park in the middle of Leeds," before adding wistfully, "just two of those acres would come in rather handy you know".

In fact the 55-year-old Grimthorpe is very much a here-and-now man. He speaks to Abdullah every day as he liaises between his employer and his 13 trainers worldwide who handle the homebred progeny of Juddmonte's 250-strong broodmare band.

He says: "It's a wonderful job, dealing with fantastic professionals. The other day on my mobile I had Stoute, Cecil, Fabre and Weld stacked up on top of each other and it is a genuine pleasure to be involved with trainers of that calibre."

Abdullah's loyalty to Henry Cecil has been one of the foundation stones of the great man's survival as a trainer and Grimthorpe observes: "The thing people seem to have missed about Henry is that he has come back from the brink mentally, physically and professionally. To do any one of those is exceptional, but to do all three is nothing less than heart-warming."

And it is also why Cecil, who may not know what a council house looks like, is much loved by those who live in them.

Tomorrow, the Abdullah operation is all about their spectacular Derby winner Workforce in the King George. Grimthorpe says: "As a yearling he was backward, nothing ever wrong with him, but nothing remarkable about him either. He was big and didn't actually go to Michael Stoute's until June 6 of his two-year-old career.

"But once he started to work he held on to his condition, whereas some of those big horses just fall away and you think 'perhaps we'll geld him and see if Nicky Henderson wants him!' "When we sent him to Stoute's we were reasonably confident he would be all right and he went to Goodwood on September 23. I thought he would fall out of the stalls make some nice late headway and have a good introduction. In fact he beat Oasis Dancer six lengths and when that one went and won the big sales race next time out my cousin Ralph, who trains him, rang up and said ours must be an aeroplane.

"Most trainers would have been tempted to run Workforce in one of the fancy two-year-old races and overdo him. That's just not the Stoute way, which is why the horse is where he is now."

Grimthorpe was early to Epsom on Derby day and says: "I always walk the course if I can because it gives you a feel of what the horse is being asked to do. Yes, of course I get nervous - to me the Derby is the most exciting two and a half minutes in sport and has been ever since I had two shillings on Larkspur with my mother back in 1962 and the favourite Hethersett fell in order to let him win.

"This year we had two runners and you get a fantastic view from the prince's box. I was watching Bullet Train, but at the top of the hill the first distress signals went out and I thought 'now where the hell is Workforce?' "I lost him momentarily on the point of the turn in, but picked him up when Ryan [Moore] slipped him through, and my heart skipped a beat because the moment when he quickened was as exciting as it could have been. It doesn't matter what you see on the gallops, you never truly know a horse until he faces the racecourse test.

"I don't usually shout, but I started yelling four furlongs out - here was a fourth-generation Juddmonte-bred and it is hard to beat that."

And afterwards, at the press conference, Grimthorpe came up with one of the quotes of the season. As he followed Stoute into the subterranean cinema where the hacks assemble, Grimthorpe said, half out loud and half to himself: "All my own doing of course!" It was the comment of a thoroughly decent man sending himself up and saying "I really do not know what I have done to deserve being here".

FOR all his affability and the bumbling air he sometimes projects, Grimthorpe has an acute racing brain. He says: "In many ways I'm very conservative but, like it or not, we are facing a crisis. TV is vital to the betting side in particular and if the BBC went down to just a couple of meetings a year, and Channel 4 was no longer subsidised, we would have to re-invent ourselves.

"It is no good people criticising Racing For Change or the Sovereign Series. If those critics are so clever, let's hear what their alternatives are. We don't have to go to the equivalent of Twenty20 cricket to come up with a narrative that people not only can follow but want to follow."

At Ascot tomorrow Grimthorpe will be with Prince Khalid, both representing and protecting his interests. He races 80 to 90 days a year and his little attic office at Banstead Manor Stud in Newmarket is piled high with work, unlike those rooms which are too tidy to be places where anything actually gets done.

He is a man who earns his corn but this considerable Flat racing figure also adores the Cheltenham Festival. For four days he can relax with his friends, free from any pressure. "I love it," he says, "and the best thing is that the press walk past you as if they don't know you. It's absolutely marvellous."


Teddy Beckett: "When Ryan Moore slipped Workforce through in the Derby my heart skipped a beat"
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Jul 23, 2010
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