mercy rimell

Mark Co­ton re­flects on the life of a true one-off

Racing Ahead - - OBITUARY -

Mercy Rimell, who died on July 6, aged 98, was a suc­cess­ful trainer in her own right, win­ning the Cham­pion Hur­dle with Gaye Brief in 1983.But she will be best re­mem­bered as one half of one of the great rac­ing part­ner­ships of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, along­side hus­band Fred, and for a for­mi­da­ble per­sonal man­ner which at times made Mar­garet Thatcher seem like Claire Rayner.

The en­try list of rac­ing’s bloody dif­fi­cult char­ac­ters is a long and dis­tin­guished one,and Mrs Rimell can be found at the top of the long hand­i­cap, along­side Jenny Pit­man,their pres­ence in­dica­tive not only of the great qual­i­ties but also of the many sac­ri­fices de­manded of rac­ing’s ground­break­ing fe­male train­ers. “I had a strange iso­lated child­hood.” So be­gins Mercy Rimell’s “Re­flec­tions On Rac­ing”, writ­ten in 1989 shortly af­ter her re­tire­ment from train­ing.

She suf­fered se­verely from asthma in early child­hood and was kept out of school by an im­mensely de­mand­ing mother who was soon ex­ploit­ing her daugh­ter's eques­trian tal­ents on the mid­lands show pony cir­cuit, where she car­ried all be­fore her.

She mar­ried suc­cess­ful jumps jockey Fred Rimell when she was 17.

Fred was 24.The war awaited them,with its three blank years for jumps rac­ing be­tween 1942-44, and not much more for a long time on ei­ther side.

Fred would quit rid­ing af­ter break­ing his neck in a fall in 1947,shortly af­ter land­ing his fourth Cham­pion Jockey’s ti­tle.

The young mar­ried cou­ple quickly be­gan a train­ing part­ner­ship in which Fred would be crowned cham­pion five times, and which would yield four Grand Na­tional suc­cesses, two Gold Cups and the same num­ber of Cham­pion Hur­dles with the great Com­edy Of Er­rors.

I vividly re­mem­ber, first go­ing rac­ing in the mid­dle of the 1970s to places like Here­ford and Wolverhampton, just be­yond the gran­ite viaducts and the trad­ing es­tates, Fred and Mercy Rimell as an im­prob­a­bly cap­ti­vat­ing and classy cou­ple, with Mercy al­ways im­pec­ca­bly at­tired in out­fits which would have graced the malls of Mi­lan, even on a grim Wed­nes­day atWar­wick.

There they were, al­ways work­ing in tan­dem, with Mercy pulling the rug from another strong,ath­letic young novice hur­dler, as Fred briefed the jockey,or shared a quiet word with own­ers like Bert House, per­haps mis­chie­vously sug­gest­ing how they might get a sharp one in when the mis­sus wasn’t look­ing, hope­fully af­ter the horse had won, which of­ten and im­pres­sively, it would.

Once only nar­rowly, in the tight­est of photo fin­ishes atWorces­ter.I’d had my eye fixed on the line and knew theirs had got up, and told the two of them so as they re­turned from their ha­bit­ual po­si­tion watch­ing from the sec­ond last fence.

“We’ll wait for the of­fi­cial an­nounce­ment, thank you very much,”said Mercy,in a tone which could have chipped con­crete, but there was per­haps a quiet note of thanks in Fred’s eyes, who might have been imag­ined as the grand­fa­ther you never had, qui­etly steer­ing you in the right di­rec­tion in life and never pass­ing judge­ment.

Fred’s name was the one on the race­card, but his wife was the or­gan­is­ing power be­hind the throne of their work­ing re­la­tion­ship, un­der­tak­ing all the ad­min­is­tra­tive work, in­clud­ing spot­ting the right races for their horses to be en­tered in, leav­ing Fred to pre­pare them.

Their horses were of­ten as proud in de­port­ment as the trainer her­self, horses like Gaye Chance andWestern Rose from my era, and good­ness knows how many more from long be­fore it.

With Mrs Rimell there was never a word mis­placed,as with the out­fits and the hair, un­less per­haps you were charged by your ed­i­tor to ring her for a few plat­i­tudi­nous re­marks about the well­be­ing of one of her charges ahead of a big race,when a terse re­sponse might be the best you could ex­pect.

The subs would be ready with their head­lines re­gard­ing “The Qual­ity Of Mercy”,but who knew how deep and rich and strong it ran? Only Fred, prob­a­bly. Maybe a few of the jocks and the sta­ble staff, as loyal as the trees around the im­pec­ca­ble Kin­ner­s­ley es­tate where they trained with such dis­tinc­tion for so many years. What a woman. What an era. What a con­tri­bu­tion. RIP.

Mercy Rimell

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