Trainer Hedger fi­nally quits a job he reck­oned bet­ter than pick­ing veg

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Racing - Marcus Army­tage Rac­ing Cor­re­spon­dent

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

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