Monica Dickinson

IT was Graham Bradley, the former Gold Cup winning jockey, who summed up the role of Monica Dickinson in the Yorkshire racing family that was to rewrite the National Hunt record books.

"The boss (Tony) used to do all the buying, Monica used to do all the feeding and Michael did the training – they were a great team," said the now retired rider.

Yet, while Mrs D – as she was affectionately known – never sought the limelight, often preferring to remain in the shadow of her husband and then her record-breaking son, she was a consummate horsewoman in her own right.

A champion showjumper selected to represent Great Britain, she was also a fearless point-to-point rider – and only a stroke of misfortune prevented Mrs D from becoming the first (and only) woman to become champion trainer in this country.

Browne's Gazette was the odds-on favourite for the 1985 Champion Hurdle – but he swerved violently at the start, catching his rider Dermot Browne unawares, and their chance was gone. They finished sixth, yet victory would have secured sufficient prize money for Mrs D to pip the legendary Fred Winter in the trainers' championship.

That year's Cheltenham National Hunt Festival held bittersweet memories for Mrs D. She had, on the day prior to Browne Gazette's misfortune, trained Badsworth Boy to win the horse's third Queen Mother Champion Chase – an unprecedented feat.

She was also responsible for Righthand Man, beaten into second place in the blue riband Gold Cup by Forgive'n'Forget who was trained at Malton by the late Jimmy Fitzgerald.

Yet, with the sportsmanship and old-fashioned courtesies that defined her career, she was the very first person to congratulate Fitzgerald on his finest hour.

It was the same 12 months later when Wayward Lad, a stalwart of the Dickinson yard for so many years, was only denied a famous – and deserved – Gold Cup by the raucous Irish crowd at Cheltenham cheering their heroine, Dawn Run, up the famous run-in to win in the final stride.

However, it is testimony to Mrs D's popularity, and professionalism, that her horse would have been greeted back in the winners' enclosure just as enthusiastically by the National Hunt fraternity who are always the first to acknowledge a true champion. The daughter of William Birtwistle, a rich cotton manufacturer, Dorothy Cynthia Monica Birtwistle was born at Clayton-le-dale, near Blackburn, on September 19 1924.

From an early age, she rode ponies and it was almost inevitable that she would come across Tony Dickinson, her future husband and from a horse-dealing family, whom she married in 1948. They had three children – Michael, Hazel and Anne.

Yet, just a few months after giving birth to Michael in 1950, Mrs D rode Sir Paddy to win the British ladies' show jumping championship.

However, she preferred the thrill – and speed – of point-to-point riding, notching up more than 60 successes. She was never frightened of hurting herself, in spite of being responsible for a young family.

"No, no, never gave it a thought. No good if you're frightened, is it?" she once said. "If a jockey's frightened of hurting himself, he doesn't want to do it." Such a remark personified Mrs D's matter-of-fact approach to life.

The Dickinson family became pre-eminent in the late 1960s from their farm at Ribbleshead Stables in Gisburn where Tony Dickinson – universally known as The Boss – trained horses and Michael rode them.

Yet it was Mrs D who became the driving force behind the family success, the unsung hero who stayed at home while the family went racing

She was work-rider, secretary and general dogsbody in the stable before the family moved to Poplar House at Dunkeswick, near Harewood, in 1979, a year before Dickinson senior handed over the training licence to his son who was to go on and enjoy unprecedented success, most notably training the first five horses home in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yet, in many respects, Mrs D was at her happiest when she was feeding her horses every afternoon. "She was tough but she was fair and she was genuine. But she wouldn't have let the Queen Mother into the yard after the shutters had gone down for afternoon feed!" observed Bradley who had so proudly led the Dickinson cavalry home at Cheltenham.

However, when Dickinson junior switched to the flat in 1984 before relocating to the US, Mrs D emerged as the family's flagbearer in her own right.

Though Badsworth Boy's Champion Chase success was an undoubted highlight, perhaps her greatest feat was guiding Wayward Lad to a third King George VI Chase on Boxing Day in 1985 – a race that the Dickinsons had virtually monopolised for the best part of a decade.

Although Mrs D scored 149 winners in her right, it must be remembered that she had contributed to 941 successes before acquiring a training licence.

After her husband died in 1991, Mrs D enjoyed a long retirement at her home near Wetherby, assiduously following the progress of her son's exploits in America and those of her son-in-law Tom Tate, the Tadcaster trainer. She regularly attended Wetherby racecourse where a race is held each year in memory of her husband.

But she will always be remembered by the world of National Hunt racing for her determination, organisation, attention to detail, the firm, but fair discipline with which she ruled her stable staff and, above all, her love of horses.

Monica Dickinson, who was aged 83, died on Tuesday. A memorial service will be held on Tuesday at noon at St James' Church, Wetherby.