Obituary: George Owen

George Owen, jockey and racehorse trainer; born Ledsham, Cheshire 25 December 1907; married 1934 Margaret Done (four daughters); died Bridgnorth, Shropshire 29 September 1997.

It was not just as the trainer of some high-class steeplechasers that George Owen left his mark on the sport of National Hunt racing. Owen's Cheshire base was the springboard from which three champion jump jockeys, as well as a champion amateur, launched their careers.

The most famous jockey to graduate from the Owen ranks was Dick Francis, now better known as a world-famous author, although he will be also remembered as the jockey of the Queen Mother's Devon Loch, who inexplicably did the splits when about to win the Grand National.

As well as Francis, the other champion professionals to start their career with Owen were Tim Brookshaw and Stan Mellor. It was Mellor who partnered perhaps Owen's best horse as a trainer, Sandy Abbot, to victory in the 1963 National Two-Mile Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. While Sandy Abbot was Owen's best horse as a trainer, it was another chaser, Russian Hero, who gave him his most famous victory when landing the Grand National in 1949.

He achieved a fair share of big race success as a rider, too, most notably when winning the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1939, the last pre-war running of steeplechasing's Blue Riband event.

Owen was born on Christmas Day in 1907 in Ledsham, a village near Chester, and he was to spend his entire career, both as rider and trainer, based in the Cheshire area. Coming as he did from a farming family, it was little surprise that Owen, who was educated at Ellesmere College in Shropshire, took an active interest from an early age in equine pursuits. His particular interest was hunting, and he was involved in the local Wirral Harriers from the age of 10.

He was only 18 when he started riding competitively as an amateur. His biggest success under that status came when winning the 1930 Cheltenham Foxhunters' Chase on Melleray's Belle. While riding among the unpaid ranks, Owen also enjoyed a number of successes with the North Yorkshire trainer Walter Easterby, the uncle of the successful trainers Mick and Peter Easterby. Owen turned professional as a jockey in 1932.

Not long before war broke out, he had established an impressive reputation as a leading National Hunt rider. That reputation was capped with the 1939 Cheltenham Gold Cup victory of Brendan's Cottage. He was taking on the previous year's Gold Cup winner, Morse Code, but ran on well up the hill to defeat the defending champion by five lengths, the pair having jumped the last together. Cheltenham was a successful course for Owen, who also won that year's Grand Annual Chase with The Professor II.

He began training in 1945 with a small string based at Larche in Cheshire. It was a year later that his first jump jockey protege, Dick Francis, recently demobilised from the RAF, joined him. Francis's first ride for the trainer was Russian Hero, who was at a stage of his racing career where his subsequent status of Grand National hero would have seemed far too fanciful.

In another ironic link between Francis and Russian Hero, the jockey had actually finished second to the Owen chaser in the 1949 National, when he was riding a horse called Roimond. Earlier in both horse and jockey's careers, Francis had tended Russian Hero through the night to prevent an attack of colic becoming fatal.

Russian Hero, who had been regarded an unlikely stayer for the gruelling Aintree spectacular, was sent off a 66-1 outsider when winning the National. He fell at the first fence when trying to win the race for the second year running, an uncanny fate which has befallen other National winners such as Aldaniti and Hallo Dandy.

The National was a race in which Owen made frequent attempts to repeat that success but never quite succeeded. Martinique was sixth for him in the 1956 National, while he had the second and fourth, Badanloch and Tea Friend, in 1960, the first year the race was televised live, when it was won by Merryman II. Another of his National winners, Peacetown, who had won a smaller race over the famous fences, the Topham Trophy, led for much of the way in 1964, when he was third to Team Spirit and Purple Silk.

Another again of Owen's best horses, Two Springs, started favourite for the 1970 National but fell at the third fence before going on to finish sixth to Specify in the 1971 running.

Owen, who trained for the 15 years of his career in Tiverton, also in Cheshire, was regarded as an extremely loyal man to work for. As well as starting the careers of Francis, Brookshaw, and Mellor, he also provided a great deal of success for the champion amateur rider Steve Davenport.

After his retirement he acted as a steward at Haydock and Liverpool, two local tracks at which he had enjoyed a great deal of success.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Hire Manager - Tool Hire

£21000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is seeking someone w...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent