Obituary: Tim Forster

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The Independent Culture
IF HIS renowned pessimism had somehow rubbed off on his horses, it is highly unlikely that the trainer Tim Forster would have won the lowliest selling hurdle, let alone three Grand Nationals.

Forster's affectionate but gloomy outlook was probably best summed up by his instructions to the American amateur Charlie Fenwick, rider of Ben Nevis in the 1980 National. "Keep remounting," Forster told him. Fenwick didn't have to remount once and instead, in gruelling conditions, steered the 40-1 shot home to give Forster his second National win.

Forster's huge affection for steeplechasing came at the expense of hurdles and Flat racing, both of which he came close to loathing. He often joked that were he ever to become an MP, one of the first things he would do would be to outlaw them.

With a family closely involved in racing, an Eton education and service with the 11th Hussars (he was widely known as "The Captain"), Forster was a near identikit of many people's idea of a stereotypical trainer. For all his traditional background and appearance, though, Forster's training techniques were deceptively modern, especially towards the end of his career when he adopted with some success the interval training approach inspired by Martin Pipe. Interval training involves working horses over short distances more than once, rather than giving them a single, sprawling gallop. Forster increasingly grew to believe that horses, like cattle, thrived on routine rather than variation in their training.

After spells assisting Geoffrey Brooke and Derrick Candy, Forster first took out a licence to train in 1962 and it was just a year later that he sent out his first winner at the prestigious Cheltenham Festival, the prolific hunter chaser Baulking Green. By that point he had already moved from his original base at Kingston Lisle, in Oxfordshire, to Letcombe Bassett near Lambourn in Berkshire.

His first National winner, Well To Do, was willed to him by the gelding's late owner Heather Sumner, who said Forster was to choose one of the horses she owned. He chose well, as proved when Well To Do, in receipt of significant weight from the 1970 National winner Gay Trip, won the race in 1972.

Well To Do's victory had come in driving rain, and the 1980 Grand National victory of Ben Nevis, twice a winner of the Maryland Hunt Cup in America, was also achieved in conditions so testing that there were only four finishers. Forster had been typically downbeat about the prospects of his third winner, Last Suspect, a horse of notably dodgy temperament who was owned by Anne, Duchess of Westminster. Her famous yellow and black colours had been previously carried by the almighty Arkle. It was only the insistence of Last Suspect's jockey Hywel Davies that led to the horse running at Aintree in 1985. At odds of 50- 1, he came with an astonishing late burst to grab victory from Mr Snugfit and the gallant Corbiere.

Forster also had a good chance of landing a fourth National in 1990 with another former American racer, Uncle Merlin, who succumbed, however, to the most famous fence on the course, Becher's Brook, on the second circuit. Other notable steeplechases won by Forster were the Hennessy and King George with Royal Marshall, the Arkle with the highly rated Denys Adventure, the Tingle Creek with Lefrak City and a notable Mackeson/AF Budge Gold Cup double with Pegwell Bay.

The most prestigious steeplechase in the calendar, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, was the one big race over fences to elude Forster. His best place was when the novice Drumadowney finished fourth in the race in 1985, but the Gold Cup gave Forster one of his lowest moments when Cherrykino fell fatally at the seventh fence in 1993.

In the summer of 1994, saying "I realised that if I didn't move now I never would", Forster moved to a new training base at Downton Hall in Ludlow, Shropshire. There, he built up from scratch a new team of heroic chasers typified by the Tripleprint Gold Cup winner Dublin Flyer, a bold, honest horse who was adored by the racing public. Dublin Flyer also achieved a victory over the Grand National fences, in the John Hughes Chase.

One of Forster's best horses came towards the end of his training career; Martha's Son, a dazzlingly quick horse over his fences, won the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the 1997 Cheltenham Festival and the valuable Mumm Melling Chase at Aintree in 1996. Martha's Son's career was frequently interrupted by injury and Forster showed his true skill and patience to produce the horse to a peak and win two such high-calibre races.

On his retirement in June last year, when it was known that he was suffering from cancer of the bone marrow, having also been fighting multiple sclerosis for a number of years, Forster had trained 1,346 winners, with a full licence.

Timothy Arthur Forster, racehorse trainer: born London 27 February 1934; died Ludlow, Shropshire 21 April 1999.