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Obituary : An upright, honest and talented man who graced the racing world from the first day to the last that he was involved in it.


BRUCE HOBBS, the youngest jockey to win the Grand National when partnering Battleship to victory in 1938 at the age of 17, was bred to be a horseman; his father, Reg Hobbs, trained Battleship and 1942 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Medoc.

In later life Hobbs was assistant to Cecil Boyd-Rochfort before training on his own account, handling Hotfoot, Take A Reef and champion two-year-old fillies Jacinth, Melchbourne and Cry Of Truth, as well as Stilvi and her offspring, among whom were Tachypous, champion two-year-old Tromos, Irish Derby winner Tyrnavos and Tolmi.

Bruce Robertson Hobbs was born on Long Island, New York, on December 27, 1920, when his father was Master of the Horse to prominent American owner Ambrose Clark.

Clark, who won the Grand National with Kellsboro' Jack, was a great steeplechasing enthusiast and Reg Hobbs looked after his hunters at Melton Mowbray after the family returned to England in 1922.

Hobbs snr later took out a licence to train jumpers for Clark and others at Lambourn, and his son, who had been one of the first members of the Pony Club, had his first ride in public at the age of 13.

His first winner was Amida at Wolverhampton in March 1936 and, after others had followed quickly, Hobbs agreed to the suggestion of the stewards of the National Hunt Committee the following year that he should turn professional.

He rode Free Fare in the 1938 Champion Hurdle and the odds-on favourite looked likely to repeat his triumph of the previous year until falling at the second-last.

However, later that month Battleship's victory at Aintree provided Hobbs with ample compensation.

Battleship, whose American owner Marion duPont Scott was married to the film star Randolph Scott, was not everyone's idea of a Grand National hero and he started at 40-1, with his trainer having invested only pounds 10 to pay for the champagne in the unlikely event of success.

The entire horse stood only 15.2 hands, he wore blinkers and his trainer was sure he would not be able to see over the Chair, but there was no questioning his resolution for the struggle over the big fences, which were much more formidable than they are now.

After a desperate battle all the way up the long run-in, Hobbs and Battleship prevailed by a head over the Irish-trained Royal Danieli. There was no photo-finish and the horses finished far apart, but newsreel pictures showed that the judge had underestimated Battleship's margin of victory.

Battleship returned to his native United States for a stud career and Hobbs followed him back across the Atlantic to win the Cedarhurst Grand National at Long Island.

He also took the Welsh Grand National (then run at Cardiff) in 1938 on Timber Wolf, but he broke his back in a fall later that year and, although he resumed at the start of the 1939-40 season and rode Fulke Walwyn's first winner as a trainer (Poor Duke at Buckfastleigh), the outbreak of World War II, in which he served in the North Somerset Yeomanry with Neville Crump as his troop officer, brought his first career to an end.

Later, he transferred to the Queen's Own Yorkshire Dragoons and by the end of the war he had risen to the rank of captain and been awarded the Military Cross.

He had also put on a great deal of weight and an attempt to return to riding was doomed to failure because he found the wasting intolerable.

Soon after giving up riding Hobbs was appointed private trainer to John and Eileen Rogerson, and shortly after that he married Betty Winder, whose parents managed the Bear Hotel in Wantage.

During the five years he trained for the Rogersons, their best winner was War Risk (ridden by Bob Turnell) in the Grand Sefton Chase at Liverpool in 1946, but although he later tried to run a public stable with Rogerson support, the economics of the exercise defeated him and he took a post as assistant to George Beeby.

At that time the star of Beeby's string was the talented but temperamental sprinter Grey Sovereign.

Being involved with him considerably increased Hobbs's interest in Flat racing, and the acquaintanceship with the horse's regular jockey Harry Carr led to Hobbs moving to Newmarket in 1952 as assistant to royal trainer Cecil Boyd-Rochfort. There he was involved with Aureole, Meld, Alcide and Parthia.

He later spent two years filling the same role with Jack Clayton before becoming private trainer to David Robinson in 1964.

His best winners in that job included Cambridge (Blue Riband Trial), Enrico (St James Stakes), Suvretta (Warren Stakes) and Court Gift (Oxfordshire Stakes) in 1965.

HOWEVER, training for Robinson was never guaranteed to be a long-term career, and Hobbs and the owner went their separate ways at the end of 1965.

Hobbs moved into the Palace House yard, just behind Newmarket High Street, which he occupied until he retired 20 years later.

His first good horse there was Hotfoot, who in 1969-70 won the Coronation (now Brigadier Gerard) Stakes, PTS Laurels Handicap and Peter Hastings Stakes, and was second in the Irish 2,000 Guineas and third in the Champion Stakes.

Hotfoot raced for the partnership of Tony Villar and his mother-in-law Betty Fyfe-Jamieson, and Hobbs's success for the family was considerable. Other top-level winners for the same team were Take A Reef, Royal Park, Touch Paper, Gwent, Stumped and Count Pahlen.

Take a Reef was officially (and flatteringly) rated the best three-year-old of 1974 after his wins in the Magnet Cup and the Extel Handicap.

Royal Park was a tough staying handicapper whose wins included the Norsk St Leger in 1971; Touch Paper took the Stewards' Cup in 1972; Gwent the Jersey Stakes in 1976; Stumped the Child (Falmouth) Stakes in 1980; and Count P ahlen won the Futurity in 1981 at 25-1.

In 1971, Hobbs began another highly successful partnership, this time with the family of Greek shipping owner George Cambanis, whose filly Stilvi won the National Stakes that year and was to become one of the most successful broodmares of her era.

Retired to stud after winning the Duke of York and King George Stakes as a three-year-old, Stilvi produced as her first foal the 1976 Middle Park winner and 1977 2,000 Guineas runner-up Tachypous.

Taxiarchos came next and then Tromos, who looked so brilliant when winning the 1978 Dewhurst Stakes that he was rated 5lb clear at the top of the Free Handicap.

The Classic aspirations held for Tromos were not to be realised, and after being beaten at 30-100 in the Craven Stakes, he was sent to the US, where he made only a limited impression.

It was Stilvi's next foal who was to give Hobbs the only Classic success of his distinguished career. It was, though, unexpected, as Tyrnavos won the 1980 Irish Derby at 25-1 after making all the running.

He disappointed in his final start, the King George, on the same day that Stilvi's next runner, Tolmi, won the Princess Margaret Stakes.

In 1981, Tolmi won the Coronation Stakes after being second in the 1,000 Guineas following an interrupted preparation.

Other Cambanis colour-bearers included Amyndas, who won the Magnet Cup and was third in the Champion Stakes in 1981, and Zilos, who was runner-up in the 1982 St Leger.

JACINTH, perhaps the best horse of either sex trained by Hobbs, headed the Free Handicap of 1972 by virtue of her spectacular five-length victory in the Cheveley Park.

Sir Kenneth Butt's filly was second to Mysterious in the following year's 1,000 Guineas and then won the Coronation Stakes, Falmouth Stakes and Goodwood Mile.

She was also the best horse ridden in Europe by South African John Gorton, who was Hobbs's stable jockey for five years.

Jacinth was the first of three consecutive champion two-year-old fillies for Hobbs. In 1973, Melchbourne achieved that status after winning the Harry Rosebery Challenge Trophy at Ayr, and her half-sister Cry Of T ruth did so by taking the Lowther and Cheveley Park Stakes in 1974.

Hobbs was a master at training two-year-old fillies, as Tolmi in 1980 was his fourth champion in that category. He also handled Hecla, who nearly beat Mill Reef in the 1970 Imperial Stakes, and Acclimatise, winner of the 1982 Ascot Fillies' Mile, as well as Stilvi.

Other important winners included Tom Cribb (1973 Northumberland Plate), Duke Of Ragusa (1973 Gordon Stakes), Shebeen (1975 Jockey Club Stakes), Jolly Good (1975 Magnet Cup), Grey Baron (1977 Goodwood Cup, Jockey Club Cup), Tumbledownwind (1977 Gimcrack Stakes) and Scintillating Air, third to Shergar in the 1981 Derby.

Tom Cribb and Duke Of Ragusa were owned by Lord Rosebery, who had sent his horses to Hobbs after splitting with Doug Smith in 1971.

Another good Rosebery standard-bearer of this era was Chil The Kite (1976 Earl of Sefton Stakes) who, after the Earl's death, raced for Lady Rosebery. The latter's Gay Lemur won the John Porter, Jockey Club and St Simon Stakes in 1984.

Another of Hobbs's most prominent owners was Tom Blackwell, for whom he trained 1,000 Guineas thirds Catherine Wheel (1971) and Mrs Tiggywinkle (1974), the 1980 Oaks runner-up Vielle, Mystic Circle (1973 Princess Elizabeth Stakes) and Cheshire Oaks winners Princess Eboli (1978) and Hunston (1981).

Hobbs, who enjoyed his best season numerically with 65 wins in 1977, retired at the end of 1985 and was elected a member of the Jockey Club.

HISformer assistant Lord John FitzGerald took over a number of the horses when Hobbs retired, with those of the Cambanis family being split between him and Henry Cecil and being managed by their former trainer.

FitzGerald started training at Albert House, with Palace House remaining unoccupied and gradually and sadly falling into disrepair.

There was a further unhappy note when Hobbs and his wife - they had one daughter together - split in 1986 after 41 years of marriage. He subsequently married Vicky Hibble.

But such things are no way by which to remember Bruce Hobbs, who was an upright, honest and talented man whose Grand National achievement will probably never be equalled, and who graced the racing world from the first day to the last that he was involved in it.


Man and boy: congratulated by trainer and father Reg (light coat) after the 1938 Grand National, Hobbs, the 17-year-old jockey, and (right) 40 years later, the successful Flat trainer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 23, 2005
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