Racing: Keeping chin up amid the chinless
Paul Kelleway is impatient for Glory at Epsom. Richard Edmondson reports
Wednesday 29 May 1996
"Just because they [the media] talk to a load of people who are dead from the neck up, when they find someone who they think is a character and can talk a bit they make out you're a freak show," he says. "We're just a small family business trying to make a living.''
Whatever he says, however, Paul Anthony Kelleway is different. He is plain-spoken, devoid of aristocratic connection and not a twit, and if this makes him unusual in Newmarket it tells you more about the town than the man himself.
The Kelleways have been at Shalfleet stables on the Bury Road in racing's headquarters since 1977. The plural applies as the trainer's wife, Gillian, children Anthony, Gay (a successful trainer herself) and Sarah have, or are, playing a significant role in the operation.
Pappa Kelleway has always worked to one goal. Success for him is buying cheap yearlings and making their future the breeding shed rather than a pyramid of dog-food cans in the supermarket. He has had some spectacular successes. The 8,000gns Madam Gay captured the Prix de Diane (French Oaks) and was sold for $1.4m, while his dual Group One winner Risk Me upgraded his value from pounds 20,000 to pounds 1.4m.
This policy of pitting low-breds in the top races brings with it a large proportion of defeats. They say Kelleway leads with his chin, which is believable when you observe a dominating feature that looks as though it has met with a selection of bouncers. The man himself can stand all this even if others sneer at his strike-rate. "All I'm doing is the best for my owners and trying to increase the value of the horses," he says. "If Dick Hern or Henry Cecil puts one in those big races that finishes last no-one mentions it.''
Kelleway has only 26 horses and he knows he should have more. However, as a boy he was fostered to a family in Doncaster and he seems to have borrowed the county's reputation for tact and diplomacy. "Gay can probably get owners better than me," he says. This is the hugest of understatements. Hannibal Lecter could get owners better than Paul Kelleway.
As he approaches 56, Kelleway is finally convincing himself that life is not fair. A lot of training is about going to the right school and keeping the accent up to scratch. Kelleway's conversation owes more to the dockyard than the chapel and the only thing he will butter up is a cream cracker. He once thought performance would speak for him, and he is a rather forlorn figure when he accepts he has been wrong for so many years. "I always believed results would make a difference, but it hasn't seemed to," he said. "Experience and track record doesn't seem to get you a glass of water in this game. Maybe that's life as well.''
This is not to say Kelleway is down to his rags. On the contrary. One wet Newmarket morning last week, the trainer entered the Shalfleet lounge to meet this visitor. He wore blue overtrousers, a striped jersey with the crocodile logo over his heart and, underneath, there seemed to be several further layers, lending the impression the trainer was wearing all his wardrobe at once. The ensemble was topped off with a neckerchief.
Kelleway talked generously about Glory Of Dancer's performance in the Gran Criterium at San Siro in November last year and you would have to be a double-glazing salesman to miss the invitation to view the video on arrival at the yard. The footage, it has to be said, is quite arresting, and Kelleway still seems to be startled as he watches his horse's performance from the edge of his florally decorated armchair.
Around the lounge are oil portraits of Kelleway's good horses, the likes of Swiss Maid, Green Girl and African Song. Pride of place, above the fireplace, belongs to What a Myth, the Cheltenham Gold Cup winner, with P Kelleway in the saddle. As a jumps jockey Kelleway rode about 400 winners, including the Gold Cup and two Champion Hurdles on Bula.
Beverages were served by Gillian, who is described by a strange blend of sexism and meritocracy in Kelleway's promotional blurb as "his attractive and vivacious wife, very much a power behind the throne". Mrs Kelleway, a point-to-point rider of note herself, does the feeding and insists that horses liked to be talked to. There are few better qualified for the job.
After the questions become silly (what is your star sign?) your correspondent is invited to the gallops and is asked for a lift. Then comes an interview- changing moment. Kelleway sees a babychair in the car and immediately sees his questioner as almost human and not the scaled hack stereotype who would attempt the unspeakable just to get a quote (I must remember to return that seat to the shops).
On the way to the gallops it is difficult to tell who is in control. Kelleway, in the space of a five-minute journey, makes his chauffeur flash the headlights, honk the horn and take devious routes. It's lashing down outside, bouncing off the bonnet, but, for some reason, the trainer has to have his window down.
Gillian is already at the gallops in the family 280E Mercedes (a white and orange number, the orange bits a product of old age) which has a huge, menacing shape on the back seat. This is Dexter, the sort of animal that cleans up burglary rates. Dexter is big, even by Rottweiler standards, as a medical condition means he is on steroids. He looks as though he's had most of the injections while in the car and might struggle to disembark. Eventually he manages it, swinging his moose head lazily from side to side in celebration.
By now I know I'm in. Kelleway has been so impressed by my driving that he allows me to pull the lever on the starting stalls where he is to test four two-year-olds. "When I say 1-2-3 go just hit it," he says, as if addressing some dolt.
As the rain splatters around, the trainer returns to a common theme. Like plenty of people these days, Kelleway talks a lot about the lottery. About people having a horse with him after they have won it, about the time 12 months ago when he was one number off winning pounds 3m. He lives in hope that he will get up at least one Saturday jackpot in 10 days' time.
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