Racing: Bargain buys make Moore the merrier: Paul Hayward on the seasoned Sussex trainer whose fortunes continue to flourish thanks to a cheap and cheerful philosophy

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The Independent Online
THE NURSES knew that Charlie Moore was racing mad when he kept raising his right leg under the hospital bed sheets while still unconscious. Moore, who had just undergone quadruple heart bypass surgery, was trying to climb back on an imaginary horse in defiance of the anaesthetic.

'They had to keep pushing the leg back down,' Moore said while discussing his stable's current good form and his own uproarious career as a trainer on the edge of Brighton racecourse.

For 35 years he has been rising at five each morning to tend a team of cheaply-bought horses. He has suffered three heart attacks, meningitis, and has had just four days holiday in the last 26 years. His biography would have to be written in volumes.

This small and farm-like racing yard high on the Sussex Downs is not the place to find headline horses and Arab oil sheikhs. It is, instead, a portrait of what racing really is to most people: horses bought for the price of a fortnight in Florida, held together with string, and raced in the hope that just one of them will transcend its origins and take its owner to the great arenas of Cheltenham and Liverpool (failing that, landing a gamble at Fontwell or Fakenham would do just fine).

Charlie Moore (proper name: Arthur) knows a lot about landing touches and he knows a fair bit about purchasing horses for a pittance. 'The cheapest?,' he said, rifling back through four decades of memories. 'Bonidon, for 200 quid. Won seven races round Plumpton. He looked like two boards nailed together. He windsucked, he box-walked, he had a dicky heart and he needed a lamb in his box with him the whole time. I tell you what: the day he fell at Plumpton and broke his neck, I cried and really meant it. He was like an angel to me.'

Forget the pounds 200, though. Because we are talking hard cash here, Moore has forgotten to mention the animal he acquired out of a muddy field for some old spare parts. 'Oh, that one,' he said. 'It was when I was in the motor trade and a fellah phoned me up and said he was looking for five lorry tyres and wheels.

'When I took them up there I told him I wanted 55 quid for the lot, but then while we were talking this horse trotted over knee-deep in mud. I said: what's that? He said it was called Senegal, and had the worst legs in the world, but when I got home and looked it up in the form book he'd never been out of the money on the Flat. Me and the bloke did a swap for the tyres and wheels. He said he was only going to shoot the horse anyway, and that would have cost him 60 quid.'

You can imagine what happened next. 'I brought him home,' Moore said, 'and worked day and night on him. I rode him every morning. I blackjacked his legs with a toothbrush every day. And I had a right touch with him - from 33-1 down to 14-1 - after I'd fallen on him going round a sharp bend at Wye. I said to the jockey next time: kick him in the belly three (furlongs) out and don't stop kicking until you kick me in the winner's enclosure. He leaned down and said: 'you flash bastard', so I said: look, there's 500 quid in it for you. Now go to work.'

The language of work is something Moore could have helped to invent, and just now all that impossibly complex wheeling and dealing and those painfully early mornings are paying what are, by a small stable's standards, rich dividends. And to think: the most expensive horse by a long way to make it into his yard cost just pounds 26,000 and was useless. 'It was like a car with no petrol,' Moore said.

Petrol. That is another subject to have taxed him lately. When he fell out with his horsebox driver a fortnight ago, Moore decided that he would take the wheel himself after doing a few sums. 'I don't mind doing it,' he said. 'I'd have to give a driver 40 quid, and it'd cost me 10 quid in petrol to get to the races in my own car, so I'm 50 quid in hand if I do it myself.' Moore charges about pounds 10 to transport a horse to a local course ('If I started charging 85p a mile like a lot of trainers, my owners couldn't take it).'

That Moore can have taken this routine so long - this is almost certainly his last year - is one of Sussex's minor miracles. His father died of a heart disorder aged 38, and Charlie, having inherited the condition, has collapsed three times with coronary arrests. 'The first time was in 1971 when I was looking at a car in a driveway,' he said, 'but the (bypass) operation was the worst of it.

'They put me in a ward with four other heart patients. One was a postman - over in the corner - and within 10 minutes of me saying hello and having a chat with him he was dead, and two others went within 24 hours. I thought: Christ, this is a bloody cheerful place.'

And so the talk returned to horses. Of a beast who 'looked like a woolly bear' and cost pounds 650, yet landed a gamble at Plumpton after being bought by the pharmaceuticals manufacturer, Ken Higson, Moore's main patron. Of the day Moore and another owner took pounds 35,000 out of the betting ring with a horse called War Child, and, more grimly, of the time the stable's best inmate, Lir, removed the finger of Moore's son, Gary, with a chomp of the teeth.

Gary Moore, suitably enough, is the battered hero of the southern jumping circuit; one of those jockeys who has been through a thresher in pursuit of the minor payouts of rural winter racing. One day he may take over from his father next to Brighton racecourse, and the chances are that he will follow Charlie Moore's attitude to his owners.

'I won't lick shoes,' Charlie said yesterday, 'because I know what I do is 24-carat. I don't socialise in bars because I'm at the races to do my job. I've survived at it this far and I'm not going to go under now.

'I won't go under.'

(Photograph omitted)