Racing: Classic memories of Mill Reef man

Geoff Lewis, who rode one of the post-war greats, is finally retiring as a trainer. Epsom may never be the same again.

THERE ARE pubs and eating houses where they argue about the merits of relative racehorses. Soon there will be tapas bars reverberating to the same controversies.

Geoff Lewis, the man who rode one of the great thoroughbreds which always crops up in racing conversation, Mill Reef, is retiring. Geoff the jockey, as he might be known in his native Brecknockshire, is going to Spain after 46 years in the game. It will be like part of the past being snapped from the body.

Lewis, and a few others, spoiled racing for those to come in the early 1970s. Those were the days when we thought horses like Nijinsky, Brigadier Gerard and Mill Reef would come flapping their wings over the horizon every horsey season. It was not to be.

It was a vintage in which Lewis was dipped and forever remembered. He can take himself abroad but the memories will be left behind. "You've got your Ribots, Sea Birds and Nijinskys, horses which on one day of their racing lifetimes could have beaten the rest," he says. "And then you've also got the Brig [Brigadier Gerard] and our little horse.

"I've never been in an argument over those two horses and I always say leave the champions for their era. Don't knock one horse to make a comparison for yours."

If Geoff Lewis is an example himself it would be for the merits of self- improvement. One of 13 children, he tried one job for a man of his size - a bellboy at London's Waldorf Astoria - before finding another more lucrative. In three weeks' time Lewis will vacate the glorious Thirty Acre Barn training complex at Epsom, the obvious fruit of his labour. It actually numbers 89 acres. It is also a great part of his history.

Lewis remembers coming to this place as a teenager, when he was apprenticed to Ron Smyth. Staff Ingham, the celebrated preparer of juvenile horses, was the man in charge.

"He was the best two-year-old trainer," Lewis says. "They were so well educated. He used to treat them like soldiers. After their first canter he used to bring them back to the tree in the middle of the paddock up there. He would say "whoa" and insist they all turned in at the same time and face him."

Ingham used to ring Lewis and request a lift to the races. "He always called me boy," the Welshman says. "He called everyone boy. He wouldn't let you get to know him but he'd give the driver a drink at the end of the day. A Scotch and soda."

A further Ingham ceremony came with a confederate from across the road. "Jack Reardon [a fellow trainer] would come here every Sunday at 11.30 and they would share a bottle of Krug," Lewis says. "And then they would have an argument."

The fiery Lewis has had plenty himself during a race-riding career which stretched from 1953 to 1979. He remains the only jockey (and this cannot be disputed) to have won the big three at Epsom - the Derby, Oaks and Coronation Cup - in the same year. Mill Reef, Altesse Royale and Lupe from 1971 stand alongside him in the record books.

They used to say that Lewis had good hands, but it is not a sentiment which still holds true. The little man's little fingers are now crumpled by arthritis, a possible legacy of his trade. He is marked more though by his passion for Epsom.

"I was fortunate to be at Newmarket for eight years with Noel Murless and Bruce Hobbs and it's an awesome place when you see all those horses out there on the Heath," he says.

"But this is the place. We have the best facilities that anyone could get. The trouble is that some of these managers for the overseas owners seem to look at us at Epsom as lower peasants."

Lewis's later life as a trainer has also been punctuated by success, most notably Lake Coniston's victory in the 1995 July Cup. But the good times have dried up and soon Terry Mills will have no competition as he tries to become the first trainer on to the Downs each morning. London may be pounding nearby, but the Lewis beat will have stopped. "I've been contemplating stopping for two years," the trainer says. "You can't keep losing and keep going and I was losing a good bit of money."

Geoff Lewis, as he approaches 64, will now treat himself to an autumn at the yearling auctions, where he will purchase horses for old friends. "I love the sales," he says. "That's a priority with me. That and breaking in yearlings is what the job has been all about."

He will continue to find it hard to spend money. "I could go up to 50 grand," he says, "but these days that wouldn't buy Henry Cecil's hack."

And then there is the shining temple of Spain and the Costa del Sol racecourse at Mijas. Lewis rather likes the cut of its jib. "I still want to be here for the summer months, for the Derby, Royal Ascot, Wimbledon and the Open," he says, "but in the winter months I'd like to be over there.

"People have taken horses to Dubai and Pisa for the winter months and I've put in an application for 20 boxes over there and I'd like to encourage people to take their horses to me. That would be beautiful. We'd do a good job on them."

The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Life and Style
The Zinger Double Down King, which is a bun-less burger released in Korea
food + drinkKFC unveils breadless meat beast
Arts and Entertainment
A shared vision: Cerys Matthews has been familiarising herself with Dylan Thomas’s material, for a revealing radio programme
arts + entsA singer, her uncle and a special relationship with Dylan Thomas
In other news ... Jon Snow performed at last year's Newsroom's Got Talent charity event
Life and Style
Text messaging changes as a relationship evolves
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?