WETHERBY’S heartfelt tribute to Malcolm Jefferson was summed up by jockey Jamie Hamilton who said that the much respected trainer “simply wanted the best for his horses”.
The Malton-based rider’s stirring victory on Black Ivory at Warwick three weekends ago was the last in Jefferson’s distinguished career, coming minutes after top class chaser Wand Cheltenham Festival contender Waiting Patiently’s dominant win at Kempton under Brian Hughes.
And it was Hamilton, 23, who was entrusted with the first two rides for the Jefferson stable since the licence transferred to the late trainer’s daughter, and assistant, Ruth on Friday.
Though Special Catch was pulled up because of unsuitably heavy ground on a bleak afternoon, and novice hurdler Only Orvieto plugged on for a gutsy third, there was an outpouring of sympathy for the Jefferson team.
Flags in the parade ring flew at half-mast; jockeys wore black armbands as a mark of respect; an eulogy was read out in the winner’s enclosure by course officials and family friend George Chaloner, a former Flat jockey entrusted with supervising the two runners, was inundated with wellwishes and goodwill.
Yet there was universal agreement that 71-year-old Jefferson, who died on Friday after a long illness, was a true gentleman whose patient approach to training – he learned his trade when travelling head lad to the legendary Gordon W Richards – yielded so many big race successes.
There was also recognition that every jockey, like Hamilton, or member of stable staff learned much while working at Jefferson’s Newstead Cottage Stables in Malton that became one of the most respected in the country after taking out a licence in 1981.
“It’s very, very tough, but knowing Malcolm, he would have wanted everything to carry on,” Hamilton told The Yorkshire Post. “He was just a great man. A great trainer. He was very good to me when I moved back up North.
“He gave me a lot of chances on very good horses, including a lot of young Bumper horses. I got to ride Mount Mews when he won his Bumper at Kelso. He’s owned by Trevor Hemmings and is one of the yard’s top horses. He gave riders opportunities.”
Covered in mud following his two luckless rides on an attritional afternoon’s racing, Hamilton was a successful point-to-point rider in the Scottish Borders before a stint on the Welsh Borders at the yard of Grand National-winning trainer Venetia Williams.
Yet the disappointment of the two Wetherby defeats was nothing compared to the grief of losing his boss. “He gave his horses plenty of time,” explained Hamilton. “He gave them all the time they needed. ‘It’s not for day one’, he’d say. He’d always look to the future.
“Riding nice horses helps, but he was good to ride for. He’d tell jockeys to use your head and don’t be afraid to do things differently in a race if it will help the horse. It was all about the horse and wanting the best for them.
“For him, horses were always for the future. Look at the old chasers we have in the yard. They have done very, very well because of how Malcolm trained. He was also a very loyal person. He always used the lads who rode out for him in the week and did the hard work in the yard. There’s a great team in the yard and hopefully things will carry on under Ruth as Malcolm would have wanted them to.”
The Jefferson yard will be represented by 13-year-old Firth Of The Clyde at Newcastle today.
As for Wetherby’s feature Towton Novices Chase, Ballyoptic won the Grade Two race under Tom Bellamy who was returning to the limelight after being stood down from riding on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham following a failed breathalyser test.
The highest rated horse in the race, he had a great battle with Sue Smith’s Vintage Clouds – the question is whether the runner-up goes up in the handicap sufficiently to make the cut for the Grand National.
A third win in the race for trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies following the successes of Ollie Magern and Blaklion, the RSA Chase or Stayers Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival are possible targets for the victor.
The three mile Stayers Hurdle, headed by Sam Spinner from the Middleham yard of Jedd O’Keeffe, will also feature Jessica Harrington’s Supasundae after he put up a career-best performance to beat Faugheen in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown.