While not the most successful trainer at the Flat racing headquarters of Newmarket, David Morley could well lay claim to being the most popular.
Morley's career was one of highly respectable achievement rather than brilliant success, but he none the less made his mark, particularly in the later stages of his life. Having first taken out a trainer's licence in 1973, his three Group 1 winners all came in the last three years. The two-year-olds Fard and Hayil both won the Middle Park Stakes at Newmarket, in 1994 and 1997, for their owner Hamdan al-Maktoum, who provided Morley with a considerable boost when sending horses to the yard in 1988.
But without question Morley's most cherished win came with last year's Group 1 Ascot Gold Cup when Celeric, owned and bred by his brother-in- law Christopher Spence, was skilfully produced by his jockey Pat Eddery to win one of Britain's best-known races with a late swoop. Celeric for much of his career had been regarded as a talented handicapper but one that was tricky to ride. Under Morley's care he flourished relatively late in life to become a high-class stayer.
Morley gained a reputation for caring greatly for the horses that he trained, so much so that he became dismayed of training National Hunt horses because he could not bear the high rate of injuries they suffered. That led to Morley's switching full-time to Flat horses in 1985.
His interest in racing had burgeoned with visits as a child to his grandfather Charles Gordon's stud in Devon. After being educated at Eton he served his National Service with the 10th Hussars in Germany, where he actually trained horses to run under German Jockey Club rules. Rejecting a job in the City, Morley spent nine years as assistant to Frank Cundell before setting up on his own in 1973, when he built up a yard in Bury St Edmunds.
Although he was primarily a jumps trainer at that point, Morley landed the first of 11 Group races on the Flat when Calaba, ridden by Lester Piggott, who won seven races on the filly, was victorious in the 1975 Cumberland Lodge Stakes at Ascot.
Over jumps, some of Morley's best horses included two of the best four- year-old hurdlers of the 1975/76 season in Valmony and Havanus. Spanish Tan beat the popular course specialist Tingle Creek on his first run for Morley in the Sandown Handicap Pattern Chase, while the Yorkshire Chase winner Tragus beat another popular horse in Night Nurse in the Freshfields Holidays Chase, also at Sandown. Tragus went on to finish sixth to Grittar in the 1981 Grand National, while another talented staying chaser trained by Morley was Banlieu, who was placed in three successive runnings of the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury.
Morley switched to Newmarket in 1985 and built up his own stables on Hamilton Road, named High Haven after the first winner he trained at Market Rasen in 1973. His ambition was to train a Classic winner from the yard; the closest he got was Fahal's fourth place to Lammtarra in the 1981 Derby.
Morley had been troubled by a heart condition for a number of years, which his friends said he dealt with bravely and rarely letting it affect his humorous outlook. He even saw the funny side, eventually, of reports that he had actually died three years ago while staying in Dubai. His friends had been rung up for tributes.
- Richard GriffithsReuse content