Award-win­ning colum­nist re­mem­bers trainer John Dun­lop

Jonathan Pow­ell re­mem­bers the won­der­ful legacy left by trainer John Dun­lop

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Few races of sig­nif­i­cance in Europe and fur­ther afield failed to at­tract the at­ten­tion of the buc­ca­neer­ing trainer John Dun­lop who died ear­lier this month at the age of 78.

In de­liv­er­ing al­most 3,600 win­ners in a ca­reer stretch­ing over 47 years he was a pi­o­neer, most notably in send­ing his horses from Cas­tle Sta­bles in Arun­del to pur­sue prizes on a num­ber of con­ti­nents.

It be­gan in the 1970s with a suc­cess­ful an­nual raid each win­ter to Cagnes Sur Mer in the South of France un­der the ea­gle eye of his long time as­sis­tant Robert Baker and ex­panded to the point that his horses would travel thou­sands of miles to Italy, Ire­land, Ger­many, France and be­yond when­ever the op­por­tu­nity rose.

Baker, a fine point to point rider, won at Cagnes Sur Mere in Fe­bru­ary, 1974 on the one eyed Belper whose name­sake Lord Belper lost an eye in a shoot­ing ac­ci­dent on the grouse moors in York­shire.

The same year Dun­lop sad­dled My Brief to win twice on the French coast. The run­ner up on both oc­ca­sions was a Ger­man horse Star Ap­peal who, 18 months later, to gen­eral dis­be­lief, won the Prix de l’Arc de Tri­om­phe in Paris at odds in ex­cess of 100-1.

Dun­lop’s hardy trail­blazer High­land Chief­tain seemed to spend most of his time on the road to the point that when he was re­tired in 1990 he had raced in ten dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

I re­mem­ber teas­ing his trainer that he had missed a trick by never en­ter­ing a horse to con­test the Palio de Si­enna, which is the only race I know where the horse can win with­out a jockey on its back!

No mat­ter that only lo­cals are al­lowed to en­ter run­ners in the Palio, first staged round the square of the town in 1637. Be­ing a kind, car­ing man who adored an­i­mals Dun­lop didn’t ap­prove of the rough tac­tics in an event that sees horses and their rid­ers come to grief with star­tling reg­u­lar­ity.

John Leeper Dun­lop was long con­sid­ered an in­sti­tu­tion in the world of rac­ing. Born on July 10, 1939 at Tet­bury, Glouces­ter­shire, he was the son of a doc­tor, an avid rac­ing fan who was a mem­ber at Chep­stow and Chel­tenham. He en­joyed an early in­tro­duc­tion to the de­lights of rac­ing by ac­com­pa­ny­ing his fa­ther to Chep­stow on oc­ca­sions.

Na­tional ser­vice in the Royal Ul­ster Ri­fles in Ger­many found him learn­ing about the sport by help­ing a friend to train a slow steeplechaser while sta­tioned in Ger­many. It was a side­line that shaped his destiny.

Once he left the Army in 1961 Dun­lop ad­ver­tised for a job in rac­ing. It was spot­ted by Neville Dent, then train­ing a hand­ful of jumps horses in the New For­est. Dent would later re­call: “I saw John’s ad as the same cry of help I had made 20 years ear­lier.

“When he came to me he didn’t know a lot about horses but he was so keen, a con­fi­dent young man, will­ing to learn and a hard worker who did just about ev­ery­thing in the yard from muck­ing out and look­ing af­ter our stal­lion.

“John was very am­bi­tious and it was soon ob­vi­ous he was go­ing right to the top”.

In 1963 Dun­lop an­swered an ad­ver­tise­ment in the Sport­ing Life for the role of sec­re­tary to Gor­don Smyth, pri­vate trainer at Cas­tle Sta­bles, Arun­del to the Duke and Duchess of Nor­folk and their friends.

He talked his way into the job de­spite be­ing un­able to type and cheer­fully ad­mit­ted years later that he didn’t even know what PAYE stood for! Such was his im­pact that late in 1965 he took over the li­cence at the age of 26 when Smyth moved to Lewes to take over the reins from Towser Gos­den dur­ing his ill­ness.

The suc­cess of Tamino in the Palace House Stakes at New­mar­ket in April, 1966, was the first of a con­veyor belt of win­ners de­liv­ered by the tall, ur­bane

Dun­lop over the next 47 years un­til he re­tired at the end of 2012. Through­out his ca­reer he trained from a a col­lec­tion of boxes and sta­bles shoe-horned into a yard in the shadow of Arun­del Cas­tle.

He started with 50 horses, quickly made his mark at the high­est level and at his peak was re­spon­si­ble for a team of 200 with some based in an over­flow yard at nearby Fin­don, for so long the fief­dom of an­other great trainer Ryan Price.

Af­ter his as­so­ci­a­tion with Ron Hutchin­son come to an end Dun­lop pre­ferred to use the best avail­able jock­eys rather than re­tain one rider. Uniquely for a trainer, how­ever, he ac­tively dis­cour­aged them from com­ing to Arun­del to ride work for him in the morn­ings.

The last sit­ing of a jockey on his gal­lops was said to be Brian Rouse, a late book­ing in 1980 for Quick As Light­ning, who duly won the 1,000 Guineas at New­mar­ket.

Dun­lop forged a long and richly re­ward­ing part­ner­ship with Wil­lie Car­son who rode more win­ners for him than any other trainer and spoke warmly of him af­ter news of his death was an­nounced.

“John was a great man to ride for, we had a bril­liant part­ner­ship and trav­elled the world to­gether,” he said.

The two men shared tri­umphs at the high­est level in 1990 with Salsabil in the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and Irish Derby and with Erhaab in the 1994 Derby.

Dun­lop be­came cham­pion trainer in 1995 and was awarded the OBE a year later. He was sup­ported through­out his ca­reer by his wife Sue who was al­ways at his side at the races.

Two of their sons Ed and Harry are race­horse train­ers, too, and their el­dest son Tim was set to fol­low the same path un­til his tragic death in a freak car ac­ci­dent in France in 1987.

A pas­sen­ger in the rear seat of a car, he was pitched into the road with fa­tal con­se­quences when the door flew open.

John Dun­lop felt un­able to go rac­ing in the weeks which fol­lowed and the pain of his loss was acutely ap­par­ent when he did ap­pear in pub­lic again.

Just about all of his win­ners were pre­pared on a seven fur­long, uphill all-weather gal­lop so his horses only en­coun­tered grass when they were sent rac­ing for the first time.

You could fill an en­tire page with a list of Dun­lop’s big race suc­cesses. Among the best were Shirley Heights in the 1978 English and Irish Der­bys, Rag­stone in the 1974 As­cot Gold Cup, Sha­dayid in the 1991 1,000 Guineas and three St Leger vic­to­ries with Moon Mad­ness (1986), Sil­ver Pa­tri­arch (1997) and Mil­lenary (2000).

He also trained Habibti, a cham­pion sprinter who was any­thing but a fly­ing ma­chine at home.

At the peak of his pow­ers Dun­lop had an en­vi­able list of well-heeled own­ers in­clud­ing the Mak­toum fam­ily. Hatta’s vic­tory in the colours of Sheikh Mo­hammed in a mi­nor maiden race at Brighton in 2007 proved to be the first of thou­sands in this coun­try for the Mak­toums.

I re­call that the Sheikh trav­elled from Lon­don to Brighton by train that fate­ful day but in time his brother Sheikh Ham­dan be­came the prin­ci­pal owner at Arun­del with a con­veyor belt of top class horses, many of them home breds like Salsabil and Erhaab.

He also trained a num­ber of win­ners for Benny An­der­son of Abba fame.

To spend a morn­ing with Dun­lop among his horses on his gal­lops be­side the splen­did old oak trees in Arun­del Park was to ap­pre­ci­ate a master qui­etly go­ing about his work in idyl­lic sur­round­ings.

Those days be­came even more pre­cious for him af­ter he sur­vived a rup­tured aorta early in 2002. In crip­pling pain he was rushed to nearby Chich­ester Hos­pi­tal for emer­gency surgery in­side 50 min­utes.

I re­mem­ber him telling me, “I was so lucky that a good sur­geon was im­me­di­ately avail­able and knew what had to be done. Any de­lays or if I’d been on a mo­tor­way, or a plane then I would have been dead.”

Rest­lessly en­er­getic Dun­lop started each day with a swim in his un­heated pool at 6am, un­der­stood that rac­ing is all about dreams and re­alised them count­less times for his own­ers.

Gen­er­ous of spirit with a wry sense of hu­mour, he sat on sev­eral char­i­ta­ble com­mit­tees and was a tire­less fund raiser for a va­ri­ety of causes in rac­ing, most notably Rac­ing Wel­fare. In the early 1970’s he al­most sin­gle-hand­edly or­gan­ised a day of show jump­ing at As­cot that raised £250,000 to­wards a fund to save the Grand Na­tional at a time when the fu­ture of the race was in the bal­ance.

I re­mem­ber be­ing deeply im­pressed that a lead­ing Flat trainer should de­vote so much time and en­ergy to a cause that was close to the hearts of all jump­ing fans.

Yet through­out his life Dun­lop seemed able to con­cen­trate on two, three and some­times four chal­leng­ing tasks at the same time with­out a sign of stress, though a cig­a­rette was never far from his lips.

A coun­try­man to his fin­ger tips he also found time away from rac­ing to en­joy ex­hibit­ing his cat­tle and horses at agri­cul­tural shows.

Con­ti­nu­ity was the en­dur­ing theme of his reign at Arun­del with the same staff and same own­ers part of a time-hon­oured rou­tine in which the man in charge never seemed in a rush to run his horses.

Yet his fi­nal years at Arun­del were un­ex­pect­edly chal­leng­ing as a sig­nif­i­cant drop in horses and own­ers saw Dun­lop forced to bow out in 2012 with his busi­ness go­ing into vol­un­tary liq­ui­da­tion.

Af­ter giv­ing so much of his time to help­ing oth­ers it was not how he wanted it to end.

Erhaab and Wil­lie Car­son win the 1994 Derby for John Dun­lop

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