Lord Grimthorpe: Witnessing Greatness From Within

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Lord Grimthorpe | Scoop Dyga

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Following a year in the racing world when all has changed, if not utterly, then significantly, a further adjustment to the norm is brought about by the departure of Lord Grimthorpe as Juddmonte's racing manager.

Royal Ascot 2021 will mark the end of a 22-year stint in the role which has seen him closely allied to some of the greatest names in the sport's modern history as the public face of the operation which is as admired as much as it is successful. That admiration extends to Grimthorpe himself, better and more informally known as Teddy. He was Teddy Beckett when he was first appointed to his role by Prince Khalid Abdullah in 1998, and he later succeeded his father as the 5th Baron Grimthorpe in 2003. 

Racing was in the blood of this Yorkshireman. His grandfather owned the 1947 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Fortina (Fr), while his father brought him closer to the sphere which would come to dominate these past two decades of his working life as the breeder of Mrs McArdy (GB), winner of the 1000 Guineas in 1977.

Twenty-two years later that same race would provide the first Classic winner overseen by Grimthorpe for Juddmonte when the Henry Cecil-trained Wince (GB) (Selkirk) triumphed in the season that both Guineas were run on Newmarket's July Course.

“I was brought up in a sort of fairly horsey fashion. I rode out–I don't think he would call it that–but I did ride out for Jimmy FitzGerald, I think when I was still at school,” Grimthorpe recalls with typical modesty.

Stints at Lindsay Park Stud in South Australia and Nydrie Stud in Virginia, as well as completion of the National Stud course, gave way to another decent term of 22 years with the British Bloodstock Agency (BBA) before Grant Pritchard-Gordon's imminent departure from Juddmonte presented an opportunity to relish.

He continues, “I went to meet the Prince in the middle Sunday of the December sales. I didn't know if he was interviewing lots of other people. But anyway, he welcomed me into his office and said, 'I'm just here to welcome you to the club'. So I thought that was a pretty good job interview, really, but it was typical of Prince Khalid. Of course he had done a little bit of research on me, or I imagine he had.”

 

 

When his impending departure was first announced in April, Grimthorpe recalled with some amusement in a TV interview the time he was asked by a racegoer if his job was merely to collect cups. Pleasingly, there have been many trophies to gather during Juddmonte's 40 years, but Grimthorpe's responsibilities have naturally run far deeper. 

After all, this is an operation where no detail is overlooked–from planning a mating, through to conception, foaling, nurturing, training, racing, and often back to stud. An in-depth knowledge of the Juddmonte families is a pre-requisite, and an understanding of the traits and foibles associated with certain bloodlines essential when helping in the decision-making of assigning horses to trainers.

“Of course, the racing is the end product and a vital one,” he says. “I think from an enjoyment point of view [what I have enjoyed most] is the development. It's knowing the stallions, knowing the mares–generations of mares. I mean when Lucid Dreamer (GB) won her maiden, she was a sixth generation Juddmonte-bred. So those sorts of things–knowing the families, and growing up with the families, and seeing what they produce and what sort of horses, and what sort of temperaments, what sort of types. They then would go to France and Ireland to be broken in there. You just sort of saw them on a regular basis throughout summer and autumn, to see how they develop and then really you're in a good position to advise, in my case, Prince Khalid and, of course, latterly the family where they might be best suited. That was a decision on the whole that Prince Khalid always took. He took a huge amount of trouble in trying to allocate his horses to where he wanted them to go. So it was my job to give him the background and the facts to help him make these decisions.”

As important as knowing the bloodstock was forming good relationships with trainers, and in Grimthorpe's tenure he has worked with some of the legendary names in world racing. And as the eighth anniversary of the death of Sir Henry Cecil  has passed this week, he is remembered still with fondness and admiration.

“Henry was not what I'd call a 'stand by your beds' man,” Grimthorpe says. “But he slightly pretended to be a bit more informal than he actually was. Originally [head lad] Paddy Rudkin told me that they thought that he was sort of daydreaming around the yard. Actually they soon realised that he wasn't daydreaming, he was just taking in all the rhythms. He had an extraordinary eye.”

He continues, “So he was very different to John Gosden, who is utterly brilliant. Andre [Fabre], his CV is second to none. On the American side, Bobby Frankel, he was a unique man and had a great depth of thought about the game, and how it was run and what the horses wanted. He had quite a gruff outside, but he had a very soft inside, Bobby.

“Prince Khalid chose his trainers very, very carefully. Really it was slotting the right horses to the right person. I think good horses on the whole are going to be good horses with good trainers. I think if you get to the likes of Frankel, it's hard to think that Frankel wouldn't have been a very, very good horse, but I don't think the story would have been so fantastic without that sort of combination, and likewise Enable and Frankie [Dettori] really, and of course John. It's those sort of dynamics that make it all interesting.”

With such a wealth of equine talent to draw from, Grimthorpe is understandably reluctant to nominate one individual as a personal favourite. “Like Andre said, I don't rate my friends,” he says with a smile. “I always thought that was such a good get out, because many of them really had fantastic stories and great, great histories.”

He is, however, happy to compile his own version of Juddmonte's greatest hits from the last two decades.

“From the early days, Dansili (GB) was the first of Hasili's progeny to hit the racecourse. I was always incredibly fond of him. Prince Khalid certainly had huge faith in him. He always said that probably if he'd been better managed he would have won at least two Grade Is. He covered the last quarter-mile in the Breeders' Cup Mile in twenty-one and change, and still finished third. I mean a half a nose past the post, he was a length clear practically. So it was always frustrating. Prince Khalid said, 'We're going to treat him like a Group 1 winner', so he came back to the stud.”

He adds, “I went through a barren period when I started the job. We had no winners at all. Wince, when she won the Fred Darling, was the first winner in England that I'd managed. She of course went on to win a Classic. 

“I always loved Twice Over (GB) because he was such a gent. He was the most mild-mannered, honest, straightforward, wonderful horse. He really was. And of course, Famous Name (GB), that Dermot [Weld] trained, won 21 Pattern races.”

He reflects on 2003 as a particularly special year for the organisation worldwide.

“Prince Khalid had Nebraska Tornado, who won the Prix De Diane, Oasis Dream (GB), who was a champion sprinter, and [Belmont S. winner] Empire Maker, all in three different jurisdictions, almost outstanding horses of their particular generation. So that was exciting,” he says. “Then there's the likes of Midday (GB) winning a Breeders' Cup and Kingman (GB)–we still can't work out how he got beaten in the 2000 Guineas. Of course, he had redemption, especially at Ascot, but more so, I thought, in the Sussex Stakes.”

In the minds of many racing fans, two Juddmonte horses tower above all others during Grimthorpe's tenure: Frankel (GB) and Enable (GB). It is nine years since Frankel's final appearance at Royal Ascot for his imperious romp in the Queen Anne S. and, unusually, he has remained almost as much in the public eye as he was in his racing days since his retirement to Banstead Manor Stud. For not only has he shown himself to be a high-calibre stallion in the time but he has also taken part in endless photo calls with visitors to the stud as well as acting as an important fundraiser as an equine ambassador for the East Anglian Children's Hospice.

“I think everyone from Prince Khalid downwards in Juddmonte was pretty much aware that Frankel had the potential to be something special from a pretty early stage,” Grimthorpe notes. ” When we put a saddle on him and he started moving, you know, he made the heart skip a beat, no question about that. Then he started running, and you're thinking, 'Oh, this could be good'. It kept on going up the scale. I think he then grew in the public's minds because he kept on winning. Therefore, it sort of snowballed and he was able to jump outside the the back part of the sporting pages.”

He continues, “Henry at that stage was undergoing his cancer treatment and so was mentally unbelievably strong, but physically quite frail. Prince Khalid said to me, 'I want you to take this on. I don't want Henry to be under any pressure in terms of the press and the publicity and all that'. Then, of course, we talked about Frankel often and endlessly. I did say to him once, 'You do realise you're going to have to share this horse now with the wider world'. 

“He was a very private person, Prince Khalid. He'd always kept it like that with his horses but he certainly understood that this was going to have to happen. He was fully on board because he realised what a phenomenon Frankel was for the whole racing business. He was a great major story of an alpha male. The story of Henry and him, obviously with two great stories individually, but together they made for a massive story.”

If Frankel sustained his trainer through his own torrid battle with cancer, so did Enable for her owner/breeder. The great mare last set foot on a racecourse on Oct. 4 last year when attempting to win her third Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. A little over three months later Prince Khalid died at the age of 84. Frankel may have been his 'alpha male' crowning glory as a breeder, but Enable, unusually and specially kept in training as a 6-year-old, was Juddmonte's queen.

“I always felt that when helping to make the decisions on whether they stay in training, I think there's always the same questions you ask yourself,” explains Grimthorpe. “Is she sound? Is she happy? Has she got targets? What's the programme? Most importantly, what does the owner want to do?

“Enable she was the most extraordinary lady. She wanted to do it. I mean she really wanted to know why she wasn't being fed first in the morning. Why she wasn't going out first thing, or why she wasn't cantering first, or why she wasn't galloping. She was the most vociferous, extraordinary person like that. So she pretty much told us what she wanted to do. She told John first, obviously. So from that point of view, it was something that Prince Khalid and the family really enjoyed.”

He adds, “I think the target of a third Arc was a big enough carrot to try. I think if you have horses of the calibre of Enable, to try and test them as much as you can is not unreasonable.”

If no favourite horse can be named, then a favourite moment from many memorable occasions during the 22 years is easy to come by, particularly for the man who all but grew up on the Knavesmire.

“There's no doubt that on the racecourse, the 22nd August 2012 was it for me for so many reasons,” he says of Frankel's seven-length victory in the Juddmonte International S. when asked to race beyond a mile for the first time.

“Obviously Frankel stepping up to the mile and a quarter for Prince Khalid's flagship race. I was chairman of York racecourse, so I did think if things went badly I could lose the only two jobs I had. But it was an extraordinary day in every possible way. The great Yorkshire crowd came in droves, people were sitting around the paddock from the first race onwards. People kept coming up to me from arrival onwards, [there was] the excitement, the buzz.”

Cecil, too, had a strong attachment to Yorkshire, and made the trip to watch his star pupil make his penultimate start despite his failing health. 

Grimthorpe recalls, “Prince Khalid came. Henry was determined to come, even though Prince Khalid had said he didn't need to. He said, 'I'm coming'. He looked very frail that day, but he was determined to come and and the horse delivered.”

The Prince and Sir Henry are now sadly departed. Frankel continues in his pomp, heaping reflected glory on the Juddmonte operation through his first Derby winner, Adayar (Ire), for their rival team of Godolphin. As the final day of Royal Ascot gives way to a Classic Sunday in France–a regular pilgrimage for Grimthorpe through the last 22 seasons–so a new chapter will begin. The man who had the privilege of watching this extraordinary story unfurl from the inside, and who remains the epitome of the discreet and diplomatic racing manager, will hand over that title to Barry Mahon from June 21.

As deputy senior steward of the Jockey Club, Lord Grimthorpe will not be lost to racing, or indeed to his beloved York, where he remains on the board of the racecourse. Indeed, the sport could not ask for a more passionate advocate in all it is currently trying to achieve in Britain.

“The ethos is that we want people to come racing,” he says of York in particular but in a manner that should be extended nationally. 

“Therefore, if you want people to come racing, you've got to deliver it. First and foremost, a very friendly face at the first gate you walk into. Good facilities so people actually are happy to eat and drink what's on offer. To get fantastic horses, you've got to have fantastic prize-money. To have fantastic prize-money you have to have fantastic crowds, and so it goes on. So from that point of view, York embodies that very much. Equally so, if you fall down in one of those, then you fall down in the whole lot, and people understand that. I mean, everybody at York understands that. So it is getting the collective to buy into everything that we're trying to do. Trying to make it better, improve everything: it's a never-ending process.”

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