Racing: Pitman escapes the fetters of family name

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THE REDGRAVES have it, and so do the Fiennes, but when it comes to theatricality in racing there is only one dynasty. The Pitmans, the family often at war, are always apart.

Richard Pitman battled with the scales and with his wife. Jenny Pitman fought the establishment and against prejudice. Always they did it on centre stage. The genes are true and now their son Mark has developed great dramatic timing.

For many people, especially punters and the television audience, racing exists only on a Saturday. It is Mark Pitman's clever design that he has managed to engineer his two greatest moments this season at the time of maximum exposure. Ever Blessed's was a stunning success in the Hennessy Gold Cup three weeks ago, and at Ascot on Saturday we witnessed glory for one which may be even better, the chestnut Monsignor. Weathercock House in Upper Lambourn, where young Pitman has taken over the family training seat, is once again humming to the sound of expectation.

Mark Pitman, it has to be said, has been heaving around Orient Express baggage for some time now. For much of his 33 years he has been known not for his own exploits but as the son of a jockey or as the offspring of a trainer. When he was a rider, too, for 10 years he attracted many offensive comments. Some referred to him as a "Christmas tree jockey", in that, outside his mother's yard, he was put up just once a year.

"People cannot put any more pressure on me than I put on myself," he said yesterday. "It is something I have got used to. I have always had people looking and analysing and criticising whatever I have been doing and I cannot do anything about that. But I can do my best and no more."

Pitman, though, has never withered. In fact, he may have found it easy to stand up to the censors as he has also been able to confront the sternest figure: the woman who gave birth to him in the excitement of England's World Cup triumph.

Jenny Pitman was from the traditional school of training, a woman whose idea of educating a horse could be to allow his three years at equine university to be spent maturing in a field. Her son is more pragmatic, a man for the modern age, more taken by ideas such as the interval training pioneered by Martin Pipe.

Thus, while young Mark borrows from the family lexicon and promises that Monsignor will be pampered to the point of being put to bed with a kiss on the forehead, he also accentuates that there will be hard times ahead. "Of course we will look after him, but he is a racehorse and he will race," the trainer says. "He won't win much standing in his stable.

"If he is going to win a Gold Cup one day we have to get him out there racing. If he had five runs this season I would think that would be the maximum and I am not even sure he'd want to go to Cheltenham and take on those Flat horses. He needs looking after.

"But I am sure he will get an entry and if he goes there he would have a serious chance. I've always been very confident about his jumping and he was schooling over banks in Ireland long before I got him."

The disparity between the ideas of the training Pitmans often had the egg cups rattling on the kitchen table at Weathercock House. In great Italian fashion the arguments were fiery yet swiftly forgotten, but Pitman the younger had to leave to flourish. Two summers ago he decamped to his first full licence at Saxon House, Fulke Walwyn's old yard.

Only when Jennifer Susan Pitman, OBE, announced her retirement in the spring at the Cheltenham Festival did Mark feel comfortable to return to work at Weathercock House. Once again the place is stuffed with promise, with animals of distinction. And, once again, the master at the tiller points towards immodest targets.

"We have had some good results this season but I haven't been happy," Pitman says. "Half of mine are unraced three-year-olds and if I had 40 to run that would be the maximum. Then if you take out another 10 with problems and a few more not up to speed you don't have much."

However, from this black hole of depression Pitman can still look forward to some of the best former bumper horses in the land, Monsignor, Ashley Park in the Champion Hurdle, and Ever Blessed, who is now likely to take in a race in the new year before an assault on the Gold Cup. "We have found out what is his problem rather than just treating the symptoms," the trainer says. And the exact nature of that problem? "Mind your own flipping business," Mark Pitman says. He certainly fits the family genes.

n Tim Sprake remains in a stable condition in North Hampshire Hospital, Basingstoke. He has been unconscious since suffering head injuries in a car accident last Monday. His agent, Guy Jewell, said: "They took him off the medication and the ventilator yesterday and he partially came round. But he has a chest infection so they've put him back under sedation and on the ventilator. They will try again once Tim's breathing gets easier, hopefully tomorrow. All the signs were good yesterday."

n Brendan Powell, injured in a fall at Newton Abbot at the start of November, aims to be back in action at the end of next month. The 39-year-old jockey, who was knocked unconscious in the spill and suffered six broken ribs and a punctured lung, said yesterday: "I'm going to start in the gym soon. Every day I'm getting better. I haven't got any pain in my ribs but I couldn't take another fall."