Trainer Hedger finally quits a job he reckoned better than picking veg
Peter Hedger has finally called it a day as a trainer, although being a non-believer in retirement, the 80-year-old is not putting his feet up just yet.
After more than 65 years in racing, first as an apprentice jockey, then as horsebox driver and latterly a trainer, Hedger is going to be an assistant to Simon Hodgson, who is taking over his horses.
Hedger had his first ride in 1956 at Warwick for Peter Payne-Gallwey, when he carried 1lb overweight at 6st 13lb. He was still schooling at 77 and rode out until he was 78.
After his three-year apprenticeship and four rides, he quit, but after six months picking vegetables he realised anything racing could throw at him was nothing compared with picking sprouts in winter so he joined Syd Mercer, a “big old wiry b-----”, in Lambourn, who gave his horses secret herbal potions that he kept in wage packets.
When Mercer retired, Hedger joined Jack Dowdeswell and then David Gandolfo, whose cows “always timed their calving at breakfast” and would ask the jockey “can you just give me a hand for five minutes?”
His riding career came to a halt when he broke his neck on a horse called Wartown and he was required to wear a surgical collar for two years. While off, he helped on a fruit farm.
He then started to drive horseboxes for Lionel Tarrant, who, to maintain something of a monopoly in the Hampshire/ Sussex area, would object to anyone who applied for an operators’ licence. Eventually, Hedger bought Tarrant’s business.
He started doing a lot of John Dunlop’s work and when his box driver retired, Hedger took over the job and, over a 30-year period, he drove Erhaab to the Derby and Salsabil to the Oaks.
But, because Flat yards were quiet in those days with no all-weather in the winter, he took out a permit, bought a couple of horses off the Flat for £1,000 and, using Dunlop’s gallops to get them fit, would run them in sellers.
In 1985, he bought Dina Smith’s yard and took out a full licence. My sister, Gee, had a ride for him one day. The following day he was leading the horse out when it had a buck and a kick and broke his arm – a surprise because she usually made sure she did not leave too much in the tank.
His first decent jumper was Jimmy Lorenzo, who was eventually sold to the United States where he won the Breeders’ Cup Chase. Al Asoof was favourite for the Schweppes (now the Betfair) Hurdle at Newbury one year but the race was called off and he ran in the National Spirit at Fontwell, where he beat Beech Road.
The Nigelstan and Kilcash were two other useful jumpers he trained, while C’Est No Mour and Silent Echo were two of his more recent useful Flat horses.
Long career: Trainer Peter Hedger first drove horseboxes after breaking his neck as a jockey