Patience pays off in the end as son of Head Waiter makes his own distinctive mark in training world.
GEOFF WRAGG did not see the best of his father Harry as a jockey - he was 16 when Wragg senior retired from the saddle and had been away at school and college in the years immediately before - but he had a unique insight into his illustrious training career, writes Howard Wright.
Unique because few people can have spent 27 years as assistant trainer to one yard, let alone with a member of the family.
"And we never had a cross word in all that time," Geoff recalls with both pride and genuine affection.
"He was very laid-back. Just as he was in his riding, when he was known as the Head Waiter because he sat and sat before making a late challenge."
Geoff still remembers the day in August 1973, when he and his father arrived at York to find the riding arrangements for Moulton in the Benson & Hedges Gold Cup in a terrible tangle, which involved Geoff Lewis, Lester Piggott, Yves Saint-Martin, Roberto and Rheingold, as well as their own runner.
"Instead of getting into a panic, which he could have done, father's reaction was typical," he says.
"He simply said: 'I'm going to lunch, I'll leave it to you!'
"He did, and of course Moulton trotted up, with Geoff Lewis riding."
Geoff Wragg, now 72, was not always destined to join his father. After leaving college in Edinburgh, he did his National Service in the REME and then joined the electronics giant Pye in Cambridge.
"I wasn't geared to go into racing, and father didn't push me," he says, "but after I'd been with Pye for two years, I began to wonder if I was in the right job.
"It so happened that my brother Peter, who was father's assistant, wanted to move on, and father suggested I joined him."
Perhaps the secret to their long association was that father and son became partners in the business around 1958.
"I told father I thought it was time I went on my own," Geoff recounts, "but he said, 'What do you want to do that for? It costs a lot of money to set up as a trainer'.
"So we went into partnership and that was ideal, because I didn't have to fork out to start training."
Each had his role to play, though Harry's was always the final word, and it remained so to the end, even when his illness forced Geoff to assume more responsibility before he took over the licence in 1983.
"He was the trainer and made the decisions, and it worked extremely well," Geoff says.
Harry Wragg had started training in 1947 at Abington Place, on the other side of Newmarket's Bury Road from Bedford Lodge, which he had bought from a disillusioned Lord Beaverbrook in 1930, the year Geoff was born.
Timing, weighing and travelling horses to all corners of Europe made Harry stand out from most other trainers of his time, over and above his talent to win with virtually every type of horse.
"Father used to go to America every winter and he got indoctrinated by the timing business," Geoff explains. "We used to time the two-year-olds, and when it was really important, we'd have two stop-watches on the gallop.
"I remember in 1950, before I became his assistant, he worked four up Waterhall, and when we looked at the times, father said I must have done something wrong, but if I was right, they had to be Ascot two-year-olds.
"They were, because Bay Meadows won the New Stakes, Royal Serenade was second in the Windsor Castle, and Fraise du Bois won on the Saturday of the Royal meeting."
Fifty-five years on from the start of Harry Wragg's training career, Geoff finds timing virtually impossible under today's conditions, but he still believes in weighing horses and travelling the world has become commonplace.
In the meantime, a lifetime of change has studded Newmarket's history, but the name of Wragg still hangs over the door at Abington Place.
Geoff Wragg Successful partnership
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|Publication:||The Racing Post (London, England)|
|Date:||Jun 10, 2002|
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