OBITUARY:John Webber

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The Independent Online
In an age where greed bids fair to ruin sport, John Webber personified the true English country sportsman.

Other owners and trainers demand ever greater prize money from Levy Board funds. But Webber said: "It's hard enough to win any race. My owners are my friends and, if they win at Towcester, they'd be thrilled to bits to be given a rosette."

Webber was the son of Captain Jack Webber, the well-known showjumper, who ran the British Showjumping Association and was described yesterday by Col Sir Harry Llewellyn as "one of the most popular men ever to grace our sport. As secretary general of the BSJA he ran the sport for 30 years."

While farming near Banbury, John Webber represented the best traditions of steeplechasing and foxhunting as breeder, owner, trainer and amateur rider. He rode in point-to-points from 1947 until 1970. On one occasion his mount was the property of the former champion jump jockey Stan Mellor. Mellor remembers: "We looked an odd couple in the paddock. He looked like the trainer and I looked like the rider but, of course, it was the other way round. For John, racing wasn't strictly business, he really enjoyed it."

That was the measure of the pipe-smoking, country-loving John Webber who took out a public training licence in 1970 having trained with a permit since 1957. He farmed 400 acres of Oxfordshire countryside and said: "I am a farmer first and racing is my hobby."

Nevertheless he had a wonderful eye for a horse and produced a steady flow of winners including two Mildmay of Flete Chases at the Cheltenham Festival with Elfast, owned by his wife Diana, in 1992 and 1994. His other big race winners included The Snipe, Townley Stone, Knock Hill who won the 1988 Midlands Grand National, Auntie Dot, who finished third in the 1991 Grand National to Seagram, and Land Afar, who won this season's Agfa Hurdle. At the end of this season he had been due to retire handing over to his son Paul, a fine horseman and director of the Curragh Bloodstock Agency.

John Webber rode about 70 point-to-point winners himself and retired on a day when he rode against his other son, Anthony, another amateur champion, at their local meeting, the Bicester. He dismounted with the words: "I'm too old, fat and frightened!"

Perhaps his greatest thrill came when The Snipe won the Massey-Ferguson Gold Cup at Cheltenham in 1978. The winner was bred and owned by the Webbers' friends the Richmond-Watsons. Captain Tim Forster, doyen of steeplechase winners with three Grand Nationals to his credit, said: "John loved hunting and point-to-pointing. He had no time for those who took racing too seriously. If you beat him, he was always the first to come over and congratulate you - and he meant it.

"He loved country courses like Towcester, Worcester and Warwick and could see the ridiculous side of racing. I will always remember that marvellous chuckle, hearing him say, 'It's only a horse race. There'll be a dozen more tomorrow and 24 more on Saturday.' "

Shortly after getting his full licence, Webber trained Ballyrichard Again, a novice, to win three times over two miles at Stratford, following up with victories at Warwick, Uttoxeter, Leicester and Newbury. The following season Ballyrichard Again won the Old Year Handicap Chase at Newbury.

John Huyshe Webber, farmer, racehorse trainer, jockey: born Southbourne, Dorset 13 August 1925; married 1952 Diana Bull (two sons, two daughters); died Mollington, Oxfordshire 15 May 1995.