Racing: Rimell dynasty finds a fitting successor

Countdown to Cheltenham: Grandson Mark plans to take Oneway along the Fred and Mercy trail to Festival glory
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The Independent Online

How Mark Rimell could do with grandfather Fred to counsel him now. Sleepless nights, already curtailed by the need to rise well before dawn every morning to attend to his charges, are further disturbed by a real quandary. Should he aim Oneway - the horse he trains, owns, bought and formerly rode, and which has been principally responsible for re-establishing an illustrious National Hunt surname with five consecutive victories - for glory in the prestigious Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Chelten-ham Festival? Or should he opt for a handicap, the Grand Annual Chase, for which the eight-year-old is currently favourite?

How Mark Rimell could do with grandfather Fred to counsel him now. Sleepless nights, already curtailed by the need to rise well before dawn every morning to attend to his charges, are further disturbed by a real quandary. Should he aim Oneway - the horse he trains, owns, bought and formerly rode, and which has been principally responsible for re-establishing an illustrious National Hunt surname with five consecutive victories - for glory in the prestigious Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Chelten-ham Festival? Or should he opt for a handicap, the Grand Annual Chase, for which the eight-year-old is currently favourite?

"I have got tremendous pride in being descended from Fred, and I only wish I'd known him better," says Rimell of his grandfather, who died when he was a child. "I'd love to be able to give him a ring and say, 'What the bloody hell am I going to do? Shall I run the horse in the Grand Annual or the Queen Mother? What do you think?' I'd love him still to be alive, and to benefit from his knowledge and input."

The truth is that if Fred Rimell, having immortalised the family name by being champion jockey four times and producing a training record of four Grand Nationals, two Cheltenham Gold Cups and two Champion Hurdles, could have a say in matters, he would no doubt pat his grandson reassuringly on the shoulders and declare: "Make your own decision, son. You haven't done too badly so far."

Across from the office where we talk at Rimell's stables at Leafield in Oxford-shire, Oneway and another Cheltenham contender, Crossbow Creek, bred and owned by Rimell's mother, Mary, and targeted for Sandown's Imperial Cup before probably heading for the Festival's County Hurdle, crunch their oats, blissfully unaware of the agonising they cause the second-season trainer and his wife, Annie. "I get so excited, I can barely sleep," admits Rimell, 33. "That pair are stabled together, away from the others, because there are so many viruses about this year. I almost get paranoia. If they fart I know about it."

This is the trainer who had only a peripheral interest in horseracing until he was 21, and who then, having embarked on a riding career, spurned his potential by becoming a Turf version of Oliver Reed, or, as he puts it, "a bit of a pisshead".

"As a youngster, I probably had a bit more money behind me than most of the lads in the weighing room to enjoy myself," explains Rimell. "And I made a pretty good job of it, too. People like Tony McCoy and Richard Johnson were hungrier, more dedicated. Although I thought I was trying really hard at the time, I now realise that I was just having a laugh."

He adds: "I certainly thought I had the ability. Maybe it was that my parents split up and my father [Guy] went to live in Spain. There was no one to kick me up the arse. I was doing what lads do, but I always took it a stage further than the rest. When I realised I'd failed in my quest to be a professional jockey, it was like I'd suddenly been smacked across the face. Now I've gone the other way. Today, I don't drink, don't smoke, and I've lost weight - all because I absolutely love doing this." And he is enjoying the delights of marriage. Rimell directs your eye through the blizzard decorating this corner of the Cotswolds towards a church steeple in the distance. "That's where we got married last summer."

The yard was formerly an equestrian centre, owned by his in-laws, Bill and Eileen, from where racing's latest Mrs Rimell trained point-to-point and eventing horses. "I'm very lucky to have Annie," says Rimell. "Every decision is made jointly, from the moment we pick the horses out of the sales ring together. Racing is all about teamwork. It's a similar partnership to Fred and Mercy - except a role reversal. I'm most definitely the feisty one, while Annie's the calmer. Mercy was the volatile one, while Fred kept the lid on everything."

After Fred Rimell's death, the operation at Kinnersley in Worcestershire passed into the hands of his widow, Mercy, who proceeded to win the 1983 Champion Hurdle with Gaye Brief. "I'm very fond of gran, but I always felt inadequate because when I didn't make it as a professional jockey I felt I probably didn't live up to her expectations. I'm quite hard on myself. If the next three weeks go well, hopefully I can prove myself to her as a trainer."

He adds: "Gran instilled into me what to look for in a racehorse. I bought Oneway from Doncaster sales, using the knowledge that I gained from her."

Clearly, the Queen Mother would be his ideal target for Oneway. "He's got to get there first in good shape, and so's everything else," says Rimell. "It's been built up as three-horse race: Azertyuiop, Well Chief and Moscow Flyer. If one of those dropped out, that may make my mind up." But maybe the Grand Annual would be a more realistic proposition. "I always wanted to ride a winner there. I was riding round in the Kim Muir [the four-mile amateur riders' race] for about 10 years on various animals that weren't good enough. To get a winner there so soon in my training career would be beyond my wildest dreams."

For the man who has emerged so resourcefully to reclaim such a proud family name, you sense that ambition could soon be realised.

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