Gordon Smyth

Derby-winning trainer of Charlottown
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The Independent Online

Gordon Richard Smyth, racehorse trainer: born Epsom, Surrey 22 September 1926; married 1978 Sue Swain (two sons, two stepsons and one stepdaughter); died Haywards Heath, West Sussex 22 July 2004.

Gordon Smyth saddled Charlottown, the winner of the 1966 Derby at Epsom, in his first season as a public trainer. He had taken on the colt on the retirement of Jack "Towser" Gosden, whose illness led Smyth to Heath House Stables in Lewes, East Sussex, in the winter of 1965.

Victory at Epsom was deeply appropriate for Smyth as he hailed from as dynastic a racing family as the turf has seen. His father, Willie, trained racehorses in Epsom as did Willie's three brothers Monty, Herbert and Vic, who had earlier ridden the winner of the 1923 Oaks, Brownhylda. Gordon's cousins Ron, Paul and Ted also all trained in Epsom while another cousin, Tony, worked for one of Epsom's leading trainers, Geoff Lewis.

Yet the tale of Derby glory in 1966 was not without its twists and turns. The colt's owner, Lady Wernher, had generally sent horses to Cecil Boyd-Rochford in Newmarket but on this occasion chose Gosden, as he had trained for her husband, Sir Harold Wernher.

When Gosden fell ill, Smyth moved from the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk's private stables at Arundel where he had taken over from his father in 1961 after 15 years as assistant. Moreover, there was spice in the build-up to the race as Charlottown's regular jockey, Ron Hutchinson, was "jocked off" in favour of Scobie Breasley. Then, in the paddock, as Breasley was mounting, Charlottown trod on his own off foreleg and tore off the shoe. It contributed to a 15-minute delay to the start.

Even then the issue was not resolved until late in the race. Breasley had his mount in arrears in the closing stages as Pretendre led, but the great rider from Wagga Wagga in New South Wales cajoled Charlottown home by a heart-thumping neck.

Later that season, Charlottown came close to adding both the Irish Derby and the St Leger but found the idiosyncratic, topsy-turvy mile and a half at Epsom most to his liking, returning to the 1967 Derby meeting to win the Coronation Cup for older horses over the distance.

Much to Smyth's credit, he was to build on his reputation in the unexpected location of Hong Kong. He set up as a trainer in the then colony in 1977 and stayed for 11 years with among his owners many expatriates from Britain. In 1978 he married Sue Swain.

On his return to Britain, Smyth embarked on a fruitful career as a bloodstock agent and racing syndicate manager, drawing great fulfilment from putting his years of experience as a horseman to practical use in finding the right horse at the sales.

His standing as a trainer of merit had begun to grow before he moved to Lewes. In his first season at Arundel he won two prestigious races for two year olds, the Richmond Stakes at Goodwood and Gimcrack Stakes at York thanks to Sovereign Lord. Skymaster won another of Goodwood's great races, the Stewards' Cup, and four years later Smyth trained a son of Skymaster, Sky Gipsy, to win 10 of its 14 races. They included the Richmond Stakes, as well as the Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot.

One of the warmest recollections of Smyth's approach to life and to training came from his long-time friend Geoff Lewis, who himself rode a Derby winner, Mill Reef. Lewis said:

When Gordon won the Derby he was approached by a very big owner - I can't say who - from a big yard who wanted to look around the yard in Lewes because they wanted to send him some horses. This owner inspected the set-up, which was modest but very nice, and later sent Gordon a letter saying he was sorry, but he wouldn't be going ahead because he was used to having his horses trained in more grandiose surroundings.

Gordon wrote back, accepting the owner's opinion but pointing out that if horses are fed well, trained well and looked after well, they will run well and they don't know much about architecture.

That, to me, was one of the classic ways of turning an owner down in case he might come back. That was the way Gordon was. He didn't lose his temper, but he made his point.

Tony Smurthwaite

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