Mike Cattermole: John Dunlop a class act

Last Updated July 11 2018, 11:18Racing
John Dunlop has died, aged 78
John Dunlop has died, aged 78

Mike Cattermole pays tribute to the late John Dunlop in his latest column, while clearing a few things up about Ascot's switch to Sky Sports Racing.

John Dunlop - A class act

I was very sorry to hear that John Dunlop had passed away.

John Leeper Dunlop was a racing giant, no doubt. He had an outstanding career and will be remembered as one of the greatest trainers of his generation.

And what a charismatic man he was. He had an aristocratic aura, summed up by his appearance as the archetypal English gentleman trainer – well spoken, tall, handsome and always superbly turned out in grey suit, brown trilby and polished brown brogues with binoculars encased and neatly hanging on his shoulder.

John was nearly always accompanied at the races by his wife Sue who, sadly, has been unwell for a number of years and to whom John was devoted and looked after on a daily basis in his retirement.

Indeed, John was a man with a huge heart, who always had time for good causes and had an amazing capacity for persuading others to join him and help raise money for the numerous charities he wanted to support.

When Shirley Heights and Greville Starkey won John his first Derby in 1978, it was the summer of my “O” Levels and racing was beginning to take up most of my spare time.

J L Dunlop was already in his pomp and it was a pomp that was to last for around four decades. Extraordinary.

He was brilliant at finding races all over Europe, while at home he won four of our Classics at least twice but the 2,000 Guineas eluded him. He had little luck in that.

In 1980 when the brilliant French-trained colt Nureyev was disqualified sensationally, the Dunlop-trained Posse passed the post in third having been the chief sufferer and almost brought down from the interference caused by the wayward Nureyev.

Posse made up a huge amount of ground in the final furlong to be beaten only a length but because Known Fact, who had had a trouble free run, finished runner-up, it was he who was awarded the race as Posse was promoted to second.

Then, in 1991, Marju started 6-4 favourite for the Guineas having won the Craven impressively. He was expected to win but didn’t figure at all having suffered an injury in the race.

However, after running second to Generous in the Derby, he turned up again just 10 days later to win the St James’s Palace Stakes. That was a masterful piece of training.

Marju’s elder half-sister, the brilliant Salsabil, had taken on and beaten the colts in the Irish Derby of 1990. John always said it was Sheikh Hamdan’s idea, not his.

I recall she was being trained for the King George at Ascot later that month but due to some Maktoum family politics, she wasn’t allowed to take her chance. That was a shame as it denied John the opportunity to win a race he also never won (Sheikh Mohammed’s Belmez won it).

Of course, by this time, I had got to know John pretty well in my role as Willie Carson’s agent. I was onto his office regularly throughout the week but I didn’t often speak to the man himself. Marcus Hosgood, his loyal right-hand man and racing secretary, was the one who dealt with me.

Marcus knew everything about what was happening with the horses at Castle Stables; he and the trainer spoke regularly about the plans and where to run them. Marcus then organised it. Most often, Willie had first pick after he had been confirmed for the Sheikh Hamdan runners but Pat Eddery also helped himself to plenty of mounts, and winners, too.

Marcus always referred to his boss as “Mr Dunlop”; I never once heard him call him John and he would never have dreamed of it. On occasion, we might have both referred to him as simply “JLD”.

What was noticeable was the team ethic instilled at the yard and the standards were very high. Everybody knew their job. John was extremely loyal to them and they matched that in return. A morning on the gallops there was a lovely, uplifting experience and I wish I had done it more often.

Amazingly, neither Willie nor Pat ever rode work at Arundel. In fact, the only occasion when anybody could recall a top jockey going down there to sit on one was Brian Rouse who, as a late booking for Quick As Lightning in the 1,000 Guineas of 1980, wanted to get acquainted. It was worth it as she duly won.

At the races, and after another big race success, John would hold court with the press who listened and were very respectful. But don’t ask him a silly question; he had no time at all for fools and wasn’t afraid to speak his mind.

Given that at one stage, the horse count at Arundel was over 200, I used to marvel at how much time he had to make valuable contributions to the board for Racing Welfare, the National Trainers Federation, the British Racing School, Moorcroft or what ever other body you care to name.

He regularly opened his yard for charitable causes.

John always had an outward calmness about him and was charming company. He had a huge knowledge of the game but not in any show-off way - not at all. He was funny, too and enjoyed a gossip. After the old C4 Racing team had been broken up back in 2012, John took the time to ring me to see if I was ok. That was a mark of the man.

Especially as around that time, he was faced with the prospect of his business going under. I felt that he was a victim of his own kindness here – he couldn’t bring himself to lay anybody off and laid out hundreds of thousands of his own money to try and keep things afloat. It turned out to no avail and it was a very sad and unfortunate way for things to end.

I am sure that was an embarrassment to him, but he never showed it and never lost his dignity.

For all that he did and achieved, I do wonder whether the award of a mere OBE underplayed his contribution to life. Forget his great career, just for his charitable work Sir John Dunlop would have suited him well and it would have been so deserved.

Ascot joins Sky Sports Racing

This week’s big announcement seems to have confused a few people.

Ascot, which once broadcast on At The Races but left in 2014 to join RUK, is joining Sky Sports Racing, which is replacing ATR next year.

The new channel will launch in glorious HD on January 1, 2019 but Ascot will not be joining until their RUK contract expires two months later in March.

The Sky Sports Racing channel will be part of the Sky Sports platform. It will have no subscription of its own, only the one linked into a Sky Sports package.

And, as far as I know, the familiar faces on ATR will continue to appear on SSR!

Hope that clears a few things up!

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