GEORGE DUFFIELD has led the tributes to globetrotting trainer Clive Brittain, who is to retire at the end of the season.
Duffield’s three Classic wins in a 35-year career came courtesy of Brittain’s magnificent User Friendly, who won the English and Irish Oaks in 1992 before landing Doncaster’s St Leger.
She was then narrowly beaten in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe losing by a neck to Subotica.
Brittain, whose first Classic came courtesy of Julio Mariner in the 1978 St Leger, was one of the first British-based trainers to saddle runners overseas on a regular basis – his multiple Group One winner Pebbles won the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Turf in America and Jupiter Island lifted the Japan Cup the following year.
The Newmarket-based trainer, who had a reputation for being first on the gallops each morning before daybreak, was also not afraid to run his horses in big races when they appeared to have no chance. His modus operandi was exemplified by 500-1 outsider Terimon, who was second to Nashwan in the 1989 Epsom Derby, the only Classic to elude 81-year-old Brittain.
Duffield, who grew up in Stanley, West Yorkshire, was full of praise – the jockey always sought to ride for Brittain if he wasn’t required by his retained trainer Sir Mark Prescott.
“Mr Brittain, he supplied me with my three Classic winners,” Duffield told The Yorkshire Post. “He was a lovely guy and just left you to get on with the job. No ifs, no buts, he was a pleasure to ride for. He was as brave as a lion. He would put horses in races where they appeared to have little chance – and they would win. His philosophy was ‘if they’re not in it, they can’t win it’. Simple when you think about it.
“When User Friendly came along, I was offered the ride and took it. Three Classics. What a horse. I don’t think she was the easiest to train – she was quite big and jointy. He made a fantastic job of producing her on the day. The true sign of a great trainer is when they produce their horse on the day for the big event, and Mr Brittain did.”
Duffield, who helps with his wife Ann’s successful training operation at Constable Burton near Leyburn, said Brittain’s larger-than-life character lit up racecourses around the world.
“He celebrated the winner the right way,” added the retired rider. “When he had a winner, he did a jig and a dance in the winner’s enclosure. That’s what racing is all about. He could see the funny side of things and never took life too seriously.
“I am sure he’s doing the right thing because he hasn’t been very well when I’ve seen him at the sales. He was a pleasure to be around. A funny guy. He left you to it.
“His philosophy was good jockeys don’t need telling what to do so why should he interfere? That was his policy. Smart man.”
As for Brittain, he was phlegmatic. “Old age would probably be a hint, but I want to spend a few years looking after my wife,” he said. “She’s spent 60-odd years looking after me, so I think it’s only fair I spend some time looking after her.
“Where there’s a beginning there’s an end and I just felt the end was nigh. This is the right time to do it.
“I’m retiring with some regret, as I’ve had some fantastic owners over the years and still have, as well as great staff. I’ve lived a charmed life.”