Both­way’s heart set on Na­tional win

Gen­tle­man farmer had his own Foinavon mo­ment as a lead­ing point-to-point jockey

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - RACING - MAR­CUS ARMYTAGE

WHEN Mi­lans­bar lines up in Satur­day’s Ran­dox Health Grand Na­tional, it will be all about his jockey, Bry­ony Frost, bid­ding to be­come the first fe­male rider to win the race, but vic­tory would also be the crown­ing achieve­ment for his 80-year-old owner Robert Both­way — a re­tired Nor­folk farmer and coun­try­man to the core.

Though Nor­folk has a vi­brant pointto-point com­mu­nity — in which Both­way once played a prom­i­nent part — not since his cousin’s fa­ther-in-law owned the 1959 win­ner, Oxo, has it tasted suc­cess in the Ain­tree spec­tac­u­lar. This year, though, the con­nec­tion goes be­yond just the owner as Mi­lans­bar was also bred there.

For much of his life un­til he sold all but 100 acres, on which he keeps a herd of red deer, six years ago, Both­way has com­bined farm­ing the land, milk­ing cows and run­ning a flock of sheep with his many other pas­sions — train­ing and rid­ing point-to-point­ers, show­ing horses, hunt­ing hounds, train­ing greyhounds and dab­bling with trot­ting horses.

He has won plough­ing matches, hound shows, grain com­pe­ti­tions, the East Anglian Grey­hound Derby at Yar­mouth and in-hand show­ing classes at the Royal Show. On Na­tional Ser­vice in the Royal Horse Ar­tillery, he rode in the Royal Tour­na­ment.

He came to race­horse own­er­ship later in life at a stage when it was not so easy to do it him­self, oth­er­wise he would have done it him­self. How­ever, he has also won the High­land Na­tional and War­wick Clas­sic with Mi­lans­bar.

As a point-to-point jockey, he rode 58 win­ners in 20 years, no mean feat in the 1950s and 1960s, and once rode in seven races at Hether­set. He had two rides for the Queen Mother on Kingsville Star, fall­ing once and fin­ish­ing sec­ond the other time, and he car­ried the Oxo colours to vic­tory on a horse called Prick­ley Mick.

He even had his own ‘Foinavon’ mo­ment at Marks Tay when rid­ing 50/1 shot Billy Crick. He was go­ing for a clear round when the nine horses in front of him ei­ther fell or were brought down at the third last. “I found a gap and lobbed over the fence to win,” re­called Both­way.

His sole win­ner un­der rules was at Fakenham when he had to crash diet to do 11st 10lb. The horse won so eas­ily it could have won with an ex­tra stone, but he felt so bad, he went home to bed in­stead of join­ing the cel­e­bra­tions at which his then-girl­friend met her fu­ture hus­band.

“The whole thing was a bit of a dis­as­ter,” he said with a twin­kle in his eye.

Both­way’s only ride in the Chel­tenham Fox­hunters was on Polly Flin­ders, trained by Ryan Price, which buried him at the sixth fence. On his feet be­fore the mare, he reck­oned he would never get an­other chance to ride Chel­tenham, so he re­mounted to com­plete the course and re­ceived a big­ger cheer than the win­ner. Of course, they bred them tough in those days. His fa­ther sent him to board­ing school in Dorset to “stop him walk­ing home”, and when he was re­luc­tant to walk on an an­kle he had frac­tured when he fell off a haystack, his fa­ther drove him into the mid­dle of a field, dropped him off there and told him to walk home when he was ready. He was soon ready.

His most painful in­jury was dis­lo­cat­ing his shoul­der. He had to drive to New­mar­ket and back in a lorry be­fore he could go to hospi­tal to get it put back in.

Both­way met Mi­lans­bar’s trainer, Neil King, in the hunt­ing field, and his re­la­tion­ship with King is more fa­ther-son than owner-trainer.

“When Neil trained in New­mar­ket, he had an open day at which he tried to sell Mi­lans­bar be­cause his owner-breeder was keen to cut down,” said Both­way.

“Neil rang and said, ‘Jump in the car. I’ve found just the horse for you’. He was like a show horse, full of man­ners and a kind na­ture. He had run in a cou­ple of races for Hen­ri­etta Knight, and his first run for us was at Folke­stone’s last fix­ture.

“AP McCoy was scrub­bing away on some­thing round the last bend while Trevor Whe­lan was mo­tion­less on Mi­lans­bar. He won his first three races for us.”

Now that King trains near Marl­bor­ough, Both­way drives down from Nor­folk once ev­ery three weeks, stays in a pub and, af­ter see­ing Mi­lans­bar out first lot, spends from 9.0 un­til King calls him in for his sup­per on a trac­tor; har­row­ing, rolling, mow­ing.

“I do more trac­tor work in Wilt­shire than I do in Nor­folk th­ese days,” said Both­way, point­ing out that last year the gallops were har­rowed and rolled be­fore Chel­tenham, but this time, he has not been able to get on them for the wet.

“I wouldn’t be in the po­si­tion of hav­ing a Na­tional run­ner if it wasn’t for Neil. He rides the horse ev­ery morn­ing, Christ­mas day in­cluded, and I think Mi­lans­bar and Bry­ony are a mar­riage made in Heaven.” Never too se­ri­ous for too long, Both­way was un­able to re­sist rib­bing his trainer. “Neil wasn’t there for ei­ther of his two best wins,” he said, “so we’re try­ing to leave him at home next Satur­day.”

Bry­ony Frost rid­ing Mi­lans­bar: ‘I think Mi­lans­bar and Bry­ony are a mar­riage made in Heaven,’ says owner Robert Both­way

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