NORTHERN racing has lost one of its most popular and successful figures with the death of Ridley Lamb, whose biggest success as a jockey came when he rode The Thinker to victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1987. Lamb died yesterday after the car he was travelling in left the quayside at Seahouses, in Northumberland, and plunged into 10ft of water. Lamb's friend and colleague Alan Merrigan died in the same accident.
The Gold Cup is in many ways the pinnacle of the jumps season, being a better quality event than the Grand National, and Lamb's victory on The Thinker provided one of the most memorable runnings of steeplechasing's Blue Riband. For a start, it took place on a blanket of snow. A blizzard minutes before the race put the Gold Cup in jeopardy, but after a delay the race went ahead. In a gruelling finish, The Thinker won by a length and a half from Cybrandian.
That success was the best of Ridley Lamb's 547 winners, but he was no one-hit wonder. He also won the 1977 Scottish Grand National on Sebastian V, who went on to finish second for him in the Grand National at Aintree a year later, the 1980 Greenall Whitley Handicap Chase on Cavity Hunter at Haydock and several other winners at the Cheltenham Festival.
Lamb started his career by working for his father, Reg, a permit holder at Seahouses. Ridley's first win came at the early age of 15 when he won a hurdle race at Catterick on White Speck in February 1971. A year later he rode one of the three winners which gave his father a treble at the same course. It was only a matter of time before Lamb turned professional and that happened in 1975, the season after he had won the amateur jockeys' championship with 22 winners.
As an amateur, Lamb had won the 1975 Kim Muir Chase at the Cheltenham Festival on Quick Reply for Harry Bell, the trainer of Sebastian V. Another notable Cheltenham achievement came in 1979 when he rode a double for George Fairbairn on Fair View in the Ritz Club Chase and Brawny Scot in the Mildmay of Flete Chase.
That was the year which marked the biggest break of Lamb's career: his appointment in 1979 as first jockey to Arthur Stephenson, who at the time had the biggest training set-up in jump racing. Lamb replaced the retired Tommy Stack, and although he admitted he often suffered from crises of confidence, Lamb finished his first season with 85 winners, third to Jonjo O'Neill in the jump jockeys' championship. That was his best season numerically. Lean times followed. One of the worst was in 1983 when he was laid low by a mystery back injury which kept him in hospital, and in traction, for 12 weeks. That was followed by an infected hip joint.
In the same year that he won the Gold Cup on The Thinker, Lamb retired from the saddle and set up as a trainer at East Fleetham Stables, Seahouses, Northumberland. He had his first licence in the 1989-90 season and trained a total of eight winners. He also acted as a steward at Carlisle, Hexham and Sedgefield.