Obituary: Jeremy Tree
JEREMY TREE, the trainer of four English Classic winners, will be remembered as the personification of a racing aristocrat. His relaxed style and personality fitted snugly into the immediate post- war world of racing, when the sport was much more of an intimate hobby for the rich than it is today.
Yet Tree's links with horse racing were distant. His father, Ronald Tree, was a Tory MP during the Thirties and Forties, and did much to foster Anglo-American relations; his mother, Nancy Field, was an heiress of the Marshall Field American department-store fortune and a niece, like the actress Joyce Grenfell, of the MP Nancy Astor.
It was while he was a schoolboy at Eton that Jeremy Tree's interest in racing grew from regular visits to the Astors' thoroughbred studs. He became further drawn to the sport when his uncle Peter Beatty won the 1938 Derby with Bois Roussel, and when Beatty committed suicide in 1949 Tree inherited his bloodstock. At the time he was assistant trainer to Dick Warden, in Newmarket, after serving with the Life Guards for four years and enduring two unstimulating years in the City.
Tree's early attempts to carve a career in racing were scuppered by his father. 'You must be mad,' Tree was told. 'We are in 1947 with a Labour government and there will be no rich people. Nobody will be able to afford racehorses, it's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard.'
Despite that warning, Tree set up on his own account in Newmarket in 1952 and a year later moved to the Beckhampton stables, near Marlborough, Wiltshire, where two great trainers, Fred Darling and Sir Noel Murless, had previously trained.
From the start, Tree practised as a 'traditional' trainer, strictly following his own maxim: 'Be choosy, if possible, with your owners.' His ability to pick out the best owners easily matched his ability to spot talented horses. One of the first owners outside the collection of friends he trained for was Monica Sheriffe, a long-time patron best known as the owner of the leading sprinter Sharpo, who won the first of three successive William Hill Sprint Championships in 1980.
Appropriately for a man who descended from Anglo-American families on both sides, Tree counted as his patrons wealthy American owners like the platinum magnate Charles Engelhard, for whom Vincent O'Brien trained the Triple Crown winner Nijinsky. The best horse Tree trained for Engelhard was Double Jump, the champion two-year-old of 1964. Another American owner, Jock Whitney, gave Tree his first Classic winner in 1963 when Only For Life was a shock 33-1 winner of the 2,000 Guineas. His next two Classic winners, the Oaks winners Juliette Marny (1975) and Scintillate (1979), were both out of the same dam, Set Free, and were owned and bred by the Morrison family.
In the same year as Scintillate's Oaks, Tree trained his first important winners for the Saudi prince Khalid Abdullah. They were Abeer, in the Queen Mary Stakes at Royal Ascot, and Known Fact, in the Middle Park Stakes, one of Britain's leading two-year-old races. Mr Abdullah, as he is registered in British racecards, was on the verge of expanding his string, and Tree became his principal trainer.
The following year, the pair won the 2,000 Guineas with Known Fact, but in controversial circumstances as the brilliant French colt Nureyev, who finished first past the post, was disqualified for interference. Ironically, it was the disqualification of another French horse, Sagace, in 1985, which gave Abdullah and Tree victory in another of Europe's biggest races, the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, with Rainbow Quest.
Despite being Abdullah's main trainer, Tree was typically forthright enough to express concern about the 'quite alarming', ever burgeoning involvement of wealthy Arab owners. That comment was one of a series which signalled a degree of the disillusionment Tree felt with racing. When he announced his retirement in 1989 he reflected: 'Racing is a good deal less fun than it used to be. It has become huge, rather impersonal and not as friendly.'
The following year Tree suffered a mild stroke and was not at Epsom to see his successor and long-time assistant Roger Charlton saddle Abdullah's Quest for Fame to win the Derby. Four days earlier Charlton had won the French Derby for the same owner with Sanglamore.
'I didn't think I had left him with any top-class horses,' Tree quipped with the same insouciance which spared him grief when a yearling he rejected, Dancing Brave, went on to take the 2,000 Guineas, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1986 for another of Abdullah's trainers, Guy Harwood.
Since his retirement, Tree had been troubled by ill-health. He continued to live at Beckhampton and had his own office at the racing stables, but little involvement with the day-to-day training of the horses. He rarely went racing.
Jeremy Tree was one of the 'old-guard' trainers who had little interest in the modern-day hustle of the increasingly commercialised sport of racing.
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