The late Greville Starkey, who died of cancer, aged 70, on April 14, 2010, rode 1,989 winners, including five British Classic winners, on British soil, in a riding career lasting nearly 35 years. Born in Lichfield, Staffordshire, to a working-class family, Starkey became apprenticed to Newmarket trainer Harry Thompson ‘Tom’ Jones straight from school and rode his first winner, Russian Gold, at Pontefract on June 9, 1956. The following season he became champion apprentice with 45 winners.
Starkey won his first British Classic, the Oaks, on Homeward Bound, trained by John Oxley, in 1964 and, in 1978, completed a notable ‘double-double’ by winning the Oaks and Irish Oaks on Fair Salinia, trained by Michael Stoute, and the Derby and Irish Derby on Shirley Heights, trained by John Dunlop. He also won the 2,000 Guineas twice, on To-Agori-Mou in 1981 and Dancing Brave in 1986, both trained by Guy Harwood, to whom he had become stable jockey in 1975. Indeed, it was in 1975 that recorded his biggest victory abroad, partnering 119/1 apparent no-hoper Star Appeal to victory over a huge field, which included the likes of Dahlia and Allez France, in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp.
In an era dominated by Lester Piggott, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery, Starkey was never champion jockey, although he did ride over a hundred winners in a season four times in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Sadly, though, he will always be remembered for the one race he probably should have won, the 1986 Derby, aboard Dancing Brave. In a race run at a muddling pace, Starkey adopted exaggerated waiting tactics and, although Dancing Brave made up ground hand over fist in the final quarter of a mile, the hot favourite failed to overhaul Shahrastani in the closing stages and was beaten half a length. Starkey was pilloried by the press for having ridden an ill-judged race, thereby setting Dancing Brave an impossible task, and the defeat was to haunt him for the rest of his riding career, and beyond.
Nowadays, Jamie Snowden is an established trainer with over 200 winners to his name and, at the time of writing, is already enjoying his most successful season ever, numerically, with 43 winners from 171 runners, at a strike rate of 25%. A graduate from the point-to-point sphere, Snowden was, in his earlier days, a highly accomplished amateur rider. In fact, as ‘Mr. J. Snowden’ and ‘Capt. J. Snowden’, during a brief career in the King’s Royal Hussars, he won the Grand Military Gold Cup and Royal Artillery Gold Cup, both at Sandown, four times apiece between 2002 and 2008.
Nevertheless, having served his apprenticeship as pupil assistant to Paul Nicholls and assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson, Snowden took out a public training licence in his own right at a rented yard in Ebbesbourne Wake, in rural Wiltshire, in 2008. In his first three seasons, he saddled just 15 winners in total, but his move to Folly House in Lambourn in 2011 paid immediate dividends. His very first runner from his new yard, Knighton Combe, was a convincing winner of the Listed English Summer National at Uttoxeter on June 26, 2011.
Snowden still has just a solitary Cheltenham Festival winner, Present View in the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2014, to his name, but Listed wins for Pacify and The bannerkingrebel in the latter part of 2019, not to mention a wide-margin victory for Hogan’s Height in the Grand Sefton Handicap Chase at Aintree, provide plenty of cause for optimism. Novice hurdler Kiltealy Briggs has already won two of his four starts over obstacles and finished a creditable third in the Grade Two Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham, so could be another to keep an eye on. Either way, Jamie Snowden looks likely to continue his progress through the training ranks for a good while yet.
We all have ‘favourites’. Whether it’s a favourite song, or colour or dare I say it even a person. Of course in the sport of kings that translates to a favourite jockey, trainer, owner, you get the idea. What elevates one above another is a question with a thousand possible answers. In racing it may well be a jockey that has managed to grind out a win for you that places them on a pedestal, or a trainer that’s generous with the level of detail in his pre and post race assessments, hopefully to your financial benefit down the line.
It’s a little harder, for me anyway, to hone in on what makes a horse one that I cheer on or remember fondly above all others. Grit? Determination? An underdog story? A legend of the sport, such as Red Rum? I do know though that I don’t tend to go for the obvious, much in the same way that some people suddenly support whoever’s top of the Premier League, whereas others would never dream of it. One stand out horse for me though, would have to be Grand National winner Corbiere.
Although not quite on a par with the legendary Red Rum, Corbiere was nevertheless one of the best Grand National horses of his generation. Named after a Jersey lighthouse, Corbiere will always be remembered as the horse that resulted in Jenny Pitman the first woman to saddle a Grand National winner. That’s heartening to know as we’re pondering 2020 Grand National tips to follows. What is, perhaps, less well remembered is that ‘Corky’, as he was affectionately known to his connections, did so under 11st 4lb, as an eight-year-old in his first season over fences, and making his first appearance at Aintree.
Of course, Corbiere had also won the Welsh National at Chepstow and finished second in the Ritz Club National Hunt Handicap Chase en route to Aintree in 1983. That doesn’t in any way take away from the achievement of winning the National though. The chestnut gelding went on to run creditably on three of his four subsequent appearances in the Grand National. In 1984, he finished third behind Hallo Dandy, in 1985 he finished third, again, behind Last Suspect and, following an uncharacteristic fall at the fourth fence – considered one of the hardest fences to jump, along with Becher’s Brook – in 1986, he finished twelfth behind Maori Venture in 1987. A collection of efforts over the years that stand out from the crowd – and against top class opposition too.
However, it was certainly his performance under 23-year-old jockey Ben De Haan in 1983 that was to carve his name, indelibly, into Aintree folklore. A little one-paced, but a brilliant, enthusiastic jumper blessed with an abundance of stamina, Corbiere relished the prevailing soft going and was one of just four horses in contention turning for home. At the final fence, he held a three-length lead over Greasepaint, but then came with a strong late run inside the last hundred yards or so and, as they crossed the line, Corbiere had just three-quarters of a length to spare. Another Irish challenger, Yer Man, finished third, but fully 20 lengths behind the front pair.
In fact, many understandably hold a fondness for Corbiere. He even has his own postage stamp (putting him in fine company) in Jersey, due to the aforementioned Lighthouse connection!