Racing: Fun rolls on for Ryan and Rockstar

The trainer who gave Terry Ramsden his finest moments has a new star in his stable.
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The Independent Online
THE FIRST time I saw Mick Ryan he was in the Curry Inn in Newmarket and he had a napkin over his head. I knew then we could do business.

MJ, as they call him, started working in a stable when he was 12 and is still at it now at the age of 57. The physique may have been damaged a little along the way - the trainer now walks like a rolling Captain Pugwash when he is not coasting around his yard on a Windsor Challenge ladies' bicycle - but in return Ryan has been supplied with a fount of racing anecdotes. He is a rather funny man.

Tomorrow another of his skills will be advertised when Lady Rockstar runs at Yarmouth. This is the bay filly who won eight races on the trot in the space of 32 days earlier this season. She has lost since but Ryan sees no reason why the pride of Cadland House Stables should not start winning again. And he should know.

Michael John Ryan is no stranger to getting horses to compile great clumps of victories. He did it with Brady, the winner of seven races in 1982. He has done it with Boxberger Prins, Pink Tank and Jolimo, who, between them, won 20 races in 1979.

Yet, if there is one passage of turf history with which MJ will be associated it is that which began with a trip to Yarmouth racecourse. It was a day in 1984 when he was approached by a rather flash little monkey by the name of Terry Ramsden. "He was already this flamboyant guy with horses and he said to me that he might have one with me one day," the trainer remembers. "Hold on, I said, my owners are by appointment only."

Ryan did, though, manage to squeeze him in with a filly called Katies. Days after her purchase she won Ramsden the Irish 1,000 Guineas. Then she settled a local Newmarket dispute by beating Pebbles in the Coronation Stakes at Royal Ascot. On each occasion Ramsden won well over pounds 1m. "He still hasn't been paid out for Katies in Ireland," Ryan says. "You wouldn't believe the bets he had. There was 33-1, 20-1, all sorts."

Another great day came at the 1986 Cheltenham Festival, when the two Rs were represented by Motivator in the Coral Golden Hurdle Final. "I told him to have a good bet because I fancied it," Ryan says. "He said he'd already backed it to win half a million. I suggested he had a go for the other half." Motivator won by six lengths.

Then, however, things started going the shape of a pear. Terry Ramsden, who had made his name trading in Japanese warrants in the City, started making his epitaph with punting. When the Big Bang also arrived it blew him away. He went from being the 57th richest man in Britain to about the 57th poorest. It was estimated that he lost over pounds 100m gambling on racehorses.

Among his bijou possessions had been a Georgian mansion in Blackheath, where the swimming pool surface was punctuated by holograms of shark fins. Soon the real thing arrived. "A lot of people got stuck into him," Ryan says. "He was a bit vulnerable and you do find them coming out of the woodwork when someone like him comes along. You see the true colours of some people. The bloodstock vultures start coming down.

"Terry was a colourful character and he put a lot of money around. He put a lot into racing and then when it all started going wrong it was terribly unjust as people couldn't wait to crucify him. They slagged him, knocked him down and bad-mouthed him. The only problem he had was money. He wasn't doing drugs or gun-running. He didn't shoot anyone."

Terence Philip Ramsden was jailed for 21 months in May (half of it suspended) for concealing assets from bankruptcy officials. His old mate still remains at liberty, but is unlikely to travel across the Dutch border again.

It was in the late 1970s that Ryan spread a map out on his desk and realised there was a venue to sack, prizes to be plundered. The Netherlands in general, and Duindigt in particular, looked to be ready for the taking. "I was very interested because at that time I was taking donkeys off the sands," Ryan says.

At one stage the trainer saddled 17 consecutive winners in Holland. He won all the Dutch Classics and horse of the year honours. He could not have made himself more popular with the natives if he had appeared over the brow in a panzer. "Generally the reception was all right," he says. "Anyway, the winners can smile and the rest can please themselves."

Team Ryan smiled a lot. They partied a lot. By the time they got back on the ferry, much of the prize-money had been redistributed. "How does one get to Holland old boy?" Jeremy Hindley once called to his fellow trainer on the Newmarket gallops. "It's not getting there that's difficult, my dear Jeremy," Ryan replied, "It's trying to get back."

Mick Ryan tells you much of this from the office at Cadland House. There are only 26 horses about the place, but lots more hanging baskets. Many of the yard's owners have been around for a while and one of them speaks to me on the telephone. "Mick is one of the best trainers in the business," he says. "If only he could do it full time."

MJ himself laughs at this and suggests a spot of recreation. Bentley and Olly, his Jack Russells, seem to recognise an appointed hour has been reached and make a bolt for the master's Audi turbo.

A short drive later the George And Dragon at Snailwell comes shimmering into view. MJ orders a Guinness and swaps abuse. The dogs easily find a comfy corner. It appears this is not a scenario being played out for the first time.

The trainer is unlikely to be at Yarmouth tomorrow. He has not seen Lady Rockstar win yet. But the boys of the Five Star Partnership, the owners, will be there. The syndicate which bought the filly for pounds 15,000 has now enjoyed eight wins and craic of bullwhip proportions from their host. "The lads wouldn't have got any more fun if they'd won the Derby," he says. And, you know, with Mick Ryan that might well be true.