Alec Stewart

Racehorse trainer with a love of fair play

Alec Stewart would often rail at those who tagged him "the man who trained Mtoto", when he could easily add to the list a string of notable performers including Opale, Dubian, Waajib, Braashee, Al Maheb, Wagon Master and Mutamam. Yet it was unquestionably Mtoto with which Stewart was most comfortably associated, the horse developing under his care from full-time veterinary patient to become one of the finest middle-distance racehorses of the 1980s.



Alexander Christie Stewart, racehorse trainer: born 21 June 1955; married 1986 Katherine Domvile (one son, one daughter); died Newmarket, Suffolk 4 August 2004.



Alec Stewart would often rail at those who tagged him "the man who trained Mtoto", when he could easily add to the list a string of notable performers including Opale, Dubian, Waajib, Braashee, Al Maheb, Wagon Master and Mutamam. Yet it was unquestionably Mtoto with which Stewart was most comfortably associated, the horse developing under his care from full-time veterinary patient to become one of the finest middle-distance racehorses of the 1980s.

Mtoto's defeat of Reference Point, the Derby winner, in a pulsating finish to the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown in the summer of 1987, will long be remembered by those who were present. Mtoto was to win the Eclipse again the following summer, then add the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot before being agonisingly inched out into second place by Tony Bin in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in Paris that autumn. All of this occurred within five years of Stewart having taken to racehorse training in 1983, at the tender age of 27.

Alexander Christie Stewart was born in 1955 into a successful farming family in Kinross-shire in the heart of Scotland. His father, Lt-Col Sir Robert Stewart, has been Lord-Lieutenant of both Clackmannan and Kinross-shire. His mother, Ann, is the daughter of Air Chief Marshal Sir Ralph Cochrane. Learning the merits of Galloway cattle and picking raspberry crops were the childhood ideals that a boy with Stewart's upbringing would have taken to Gordonstoun, the boarding school on the shores of the Moray Firth renowned for its cold showers and long runs in inclement weather.

He emerged to spells working with horses in New Zealand and Canada before taking up employment in the insurance market in the City of London, where at one function he met the racehorse trainer Gavin Hunter. The association led to Stewart's first job in racing, as Hunter's assistant. A year later he was on the move to a trainer in Newmarket with a higher profile, Harry Thomson ("Tom") Jones.

The link lasted four and a half years, in which time Jones won the St Leger with Touching Wood in 1982, while imbuing in his apprentice a view of the world framed on discipline and sound stockmanship, but also a level of mischief. As much was evident on an evening when a coterie of Newmarket's well-to-do young assistant trainers took an evening in Cambridge, with Stewart driving. On arrival, the party was approached by a police officer, who told the revellers that they were parked illegally. "How much will I be fined?" asked Stewart. When the reply came, "£50", Stewart turned to his friends and said, "Oh, that's all right, let's go."

In time, Stewart made the decision to go it alone and, on 4 June 1983, shortly before his 28th birthday, opened his account when Opale won a maiden stakes race at Catterick Bridge in Yorkshire. She was returned at odds of 50-1. The win coincided with Oaks day at Epsom and it would not take long for Stewart to be in attendance at the right meetings. The following autumn Opale, given the signature Stewart treatment of plenty of time to mature, landed the Irish St Leger.

The ball was beginning to roll and another filly, Dubian, came close to winning the Oaks when third in 1985. At the outset, Stewart had been in the privileged position of being able to take out a lease on the lavish Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket. Among his owners was Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum of Dubai and his brother, Sheikh Mohammed Al Maktoum. Such patronage was to be enduring, Sheikh Hamdan retaining horses with Stewart in every season.

At the end of 1986 Stewart moved to larger premises at Clarehaven Stables on Bury Road in Newmarket and was to enjoy his most successful season. Mtoto was on the team and the way he bloomed would have been richly savoured by his trainer. As a young horse Mtoto endured a leg injury and brittle feet. Time, allied to Stewart's ability to bring a high-class horse to a peak when it mattered, was to prove an admirable healer.

Victories flowed: the Brigadier Gerard Stakes at Sandown and the Prince of Wales's Stakes at Newmarket, before a return to Sandown for that scrap with Reference Point, who was to go on and win the St Leger. Mtoto returned as a five-year-old arguably even better, but not before Daarkom (Ebor Handicap) and Waajib (Prix du Rond Point and Schweppes Golden Mile) had contributed to Stewart's finishing position of sixth in the 1987 British trainers' championship. He managed a place higher in 1988, when Mtoto, ridden by the South African champion Michael Roberts for Sheikh Ahmed Al Maktoum, lost only one of his five races when beaten by a neck in Paris by Tony Bin. Waajib also added further lustre with wins in the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot and the Diomed Stakes at the Derby meeting.

The glow lingered over the next two seasons. Braashee won the Yorkshire Cup and Hamdan Al Maktoum's colt Al Maheb the Doncaster Cup and Northumberland Plate, the latter one of six wins from seven rides for Willie Carson that day. For good measure, Carson flew to Ireland that evening and won the Irish Derby the following afternoon on the Sheikh's filly Salsabil.

It was not until 1994 that Stewart next came across a horse to secure headlines when Wagon Master won the Princess of Wales's Stakes and Cumberland Lodge Stakes. Then in 2000 came the last of his star performers, Mutamam, bringing back from North America a win in the Grade One Canadian International, a leg of the World Series.

Stewart had more than his share of success in major handicaps as well, Daarkom's Ebor win, supplemented by Maylane winning the Tote Gold Trophy, Saleel the Melrose Handicap and, at Royal Ascot this June, Mandobi in the Britannia Handicap.

By then Stewart's fight with cancer was well known in racing circles. It had first come to light towards the end of 2002 when it was suggested that he might hand over the reins to a temporary assistant, but he recovered sufficiently and was in hearty form in the winner's enclosure when welcoming Mandobi, his first win at Ascot since Mtoto 16 years earlier.

To outsiders, and not that Stewart would have been perturbed at the thought, his standing among the betting-shop clientele was often different from that among the ranks of trainers in Newmarket. It was said, in a spirit of mirth but with a cruel delivery, that when Stewart's horses went to the sales they were feverishly sought after for the improvement others might garner. If that were true, it would say more about his method of training than any inherent lack of skill.

In that sense, Stewart never quite fitted into the modern role of hard- driven, commercial businessman that is the mark of today's trainer. As a non-better he would often rail at the treatment of his horses by the handicapper, in one outburst claiming that the "handicapping system in this country actually encourages cheating".

He was a lover of the horse and of fair play. Indeed, an argument he aired in 2000, that a horse on its first start in a handicap race should not be allowed to run over more than two furlongs further than it had previously, in order to combat deceit, was this summer enshrined by the Jockey Club in its Rules of Racing.

Tony Smurthwaite

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