A couple of weeks ago, I took a short walk from the museum to meet Jimmy in his flat overlooking the Heath. For the next two hours I was transferred back to his triumphs at the Cheltenham Festival, in particular his three wins in the Champion Hurdle with the courageous battler Persian War, who as Jimmy reflected, "won when it mattered"
Born in Nelson, Lancashire, in 1937, the dairy farmer's son remembered being on a Shetland pony at home almost before he was able to walk. Leaving school at fifteen, after a brief spell with Jack Waugh at Heath House, Jimmy moved from Newmarket to Epsom. There he signed a five year apprenticeship with Staff Ingham a former RAF squadron leader renowned for his strict regime. Ingham had been an apprentice himself with the legendary Stanley Wootton and despite being 6ft had been a successful jockey before he started training in 1939.
"I got five shillings a week and the landlady got thirty shillings a week for my board and lodgings which the trainer paid," recalled Jimmy. His salary rose to ten shillings by the end of his apprentice period. Riding for his boss, at seventeen Jimmy rode his first winner, Gold Double, in an apprentice handicap at Hurst Park on 23 July 1954, winning by four lengths.
Jimmy remembered that Ingham managed to defer his National Service call up until the end of his apprenticeship. "He didn't want me to go," said Jimmy. Ingham even believed he could stop Jimmy joining altogether but as an excellent horseman he was recruited by the King's Troop the Royal Horse Artillery which was then based at St John's Wood not far from Lord's cricket ground. Jimmy reflected fondly on his life with the King's Troop, which included fellow conscripts Barry Hills and Jack Berry. "I was very friendly with the officer and used to go hunting with him and nearly had every weekend off to go back to Epsom. As long as you were up for reveille at 6am you were OK." However, his two year attachment came as he was reaching the prime of his racing career and saw his weight increase to almost 11 stone.
Consequently, when Jimmy returned to Thirty Acre Barn Stables he was constantly fighting his battle with the scales. "I rode in the Derby twice," on Patrick's Choice (18th in 1961) for Dick Thrale and Singer (11th in 1963) for Staff Ingham. "I was still torturing myself then," he said. "I got down to 8st 7Ib at my best. I finished up making myself ill so I packed up flat racing to take out a jumping licence." By the end of his time on the Flat Jimmy had recorded about 50 winners.
Although he continued to ride out for Ingham, Jimmy moved across Epsom to Jack Reardon at Ermyn Lodge. "He was a smashing fella," remarked Jimmy with affection. One of the other jockeys based there was Brian Swift, who after finishing in the saddle joined Ingham's team as assistant trainer.
It was to be Swift who would give Jimmy the leg-up on Persian War.
Persian War was the result of the mating of Jackie Astor's stallion Persian Gulf, the winner of the 1944 Coronation Cup and a son of the 1935 Triple Crown winner Bahram, and Warning. He was foaled on 24 March 1963 at Cloghran Stud, County Dublin.
Originally trained on the Flat by Dick Hern, Persian War was gelded when still a maiden after his two-year-old campaign. At three, he won minor long distance events at Salisbury and Wolverhampton, in the hands of Joe Mercer, before being sent to the Newmarket sales in September 1966.
He was purchased by Lewes based trainer Tom Masson on behalf of Donald Leyland Naylor for 3,600 gns with the intention of sending the gelding over hurdles. After defeat in his first race at Ascot at the end of October Persian War won impressively by fifteen lengths on his second appearance, at Sandown in early November. After two further victories at Newbury before the year end he caught the eye of businessman Henry Alper, who saw him on the BBC TV Grandstand programme. Alper bought him for Â£9,000, a record for a hurdler at the time and moved the horse to Brian Swift at his Saddlecombe Farm stables at Headley on the outskirts of Epsom.
As Swift's jockey Jimmy got the ride on the promising juvenile who had previously ridden by 21 year old Bunny Hicks in all his hurdle races. This decision became the defining moment in Jimmy's career.
A further three wins followed. His victory in Haydock's Victor Ludorum, one of the leading championship trials meant Alper seriously considered a tilt at the Champion Hurdle. However, the fervent West Ham fan decided to stick to the original plan and let his horse take on his own age group in the Daily Express Triumph Hurdle on the 15th April at Cheltenham. (The race was transferred to the festival meeting the following year.)
"It was like a road," said Jimmy, but remarked that Persian War went on any going. In the Hammers' claret and blue colours Jimmy recalled the challenge made by Johnny Haine on the Arthur Freeman trained Te Fou as they jumped the last. "He was all out," said Jimmy, but went on to win by three quarters of a length. The winning time was twelve seconds faster than Saucy Kit's time when winning the Champion Hurdle a month earlier.
A new hurdling star with the ideal partner had arrived on the Cheltenham stage though the best for the duo was still to come.
We would like to thank Jockeypedia2 for the use of the photo.