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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Case Handler

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Trainee Case Handler is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Apprentice

£15000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £20,000 - £60,000

£20000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Team Leader

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence