Brookshaw resumes a pilgrimage

GRAND NATIONAL: Mudahim's victory in Ireland reinforces the claims of Lord Gyllene; Richard Edmondson talks to a trainer with a record of Aintree family success

To the racing public at large, Steve Brookshaw has become notable only this season as the trainer of Saturday's Grand National favourite, Lord Gyllene. But to the people of Fazakerley and Kirkby, on the fringes of Aintree, he is already an awe-inspiring figure.

The fair denizens of those Liverpool districts still talk of the April day in 1995 when they watched the course's Foxhunters' Chase on television. One contestant was going so wildly wide they all rushed out of the room to push the tallboy up against the front door. Solar Green and Mr S Brookshaw almost blipped their way on to the radar at Manchester's Ringway airport that day but eventually charted a path that allowed them to complete the course. "I went wide because he was hanging so badly," Brookshaw recalls. "He almost took me into the Canal [the jockey failed to stipulate whether this was Suez or Panama].''

Aintree has in fact been a dramatic stage for la famille Brookshaw. In 1950, in the days when the jockeys kissed their loved ones farewell on the way out to the monstrous fences, Steve's father Peter won the Foxhunters' on Hilmere. Thirteen years later, his uncle Tim, who had been the champion jockey, suffered a paralysing injury there which was to remove his will to live.

Steve Brookshaw himself was riding in point-to-points from the time young boys attempt shaving even though there is nc hair on their face. "When you were allowed to ride at 14 I did it, and by the time they put it up to 16 I was that age anyway, so I didn't miss any riding," he said yesterday. "And I haven't retired yet. Before I go I would like to ride against my daughter Heidi one day." Eighteen-year-old Heidi will get a 28-year start.

Much of Brookshaw's success between the flags was for a man who has been supporting his family for 35 years. Stan Clarke first bought a horse when an offer of 75 guineas was enough to prise La Grandesse away from the Newmarket Sales. When the mare eventually won a race it was in the hands of Tim Brookshaw.

Clarke was interested in horses because his father had been a cavalry man. While many of those that did return from the First World War reported on the living hell of the Belgian killing grounds, Clarke snr was able to recount rather more pleasant times in Egypt and India.

Clarke jnr formerly trained himself at a location which sounds like the venue for Pooh and Piglet's holiday, Barton- under-Needwood in Staffordshire, but then retired to concentrate on business. The aftermath suggests Britain's trainers should be thankful for his exodus.

It may be safe to assume you will never see Stan Clarke wearing woollen gloves without fingertips in a soup kitchen. He is the chairman of the Birmingham-based property and investment company St Modwen Properties, which recently announced pre-tax profits of pounds 11.7m for 1996. To make sure he does not get bored in his 64th year Stan is also the chairman of Uttoxeter and Newcastle racecourses.

Clarke does depart from the traditional perception of the high-flying businessman in some areas. His voice does not possess the fineries of the English public school system but sounds rather as though it should be emanating from under a tin hat on some scaffolding. In addition he has a near Howard Hughes-level of interest in hygiene, and is well known for having all the lavatories checked at his racecourses before the gates are opened. "I hope the toilets at Uttoxeter are not only the cleanest in racing but the cleanest anywhere," he said yesterday. "They're modern and tiled, and they are beautiful.

"I don't inspect all the toilets these days, but I have people who check them for me and there is a sign in every one saying that if anyone is dissatisfied with the surroundings they should write to me. I'm very particular about that and I'm in full agreement with the headmaster who said you should judge a school by its toilets.''

When Clarke regained his interest in racing, and specifically points and hunter-chasers, it was Brookshaw who was doing the riding and then training. His efforts with some wooden material earned a promise that he would get an animal of distinction from his patron when he took out a full licence.

This pledge resulted in the arrival two years ago at Preston Farm, Uffington, on Shrewsbury's eastern perimeter, of Lord Gyllene. He did not take the accepted route of junction 12 off the M6 and the A5, but rather Waikato and Ellerslie, on New Zealand's north island, where he won two novice chases before changing hemispheres. Stan Clarke likes Kiwi horses and their reputation for armoured hardiness.

Lord Gyllene has certainly shown no underbelly this season and his victory over Mudahim in Uttoxeter's National Trial in February is beginning to look persuasive form in the light of the runner-up's subsequent victories in the Racing Post Chase and Monday's Irish National.

Now Steve Brookshaw is looking forward to returning to the circuit that holds so many memories for himself and his extended family. "It's a great experience riding over those fences because the atmosphere is so different with everyone being that much more friendly and wishing each other luck," he said.

Brookshaw admits he will be noncommunicative to the point of rudeness on Saturday and he will have to take himself away to control the nerves. Stan Clarke, too, may be seen in the Aintree loos, but that will not be the result of tension. He will be checking out the opposition.

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