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."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
a clockwork orange, stanley kubrick
film
Extras
The Tesco Hudl2: An exceptional Android tablet that's powerful, well-built and outstanding value
indybest

Life and Style
food + drinkAuthor DBC Pierre presents his guide to the morning after
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
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: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas