Racing: Pitman to strike out from the motherland

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The Independent Online
There are some stewards and clerks of the course who will feel that one Pitman with a trainer's licence is as many as they wish to deal with, but the total will soon double following the announcement yesterday that Mark Pitman, who has been assistant to his mother, Jenny, for the last four years, is to strike out on his own. The former jockey, who rode Garrison Savannah to victory for the stable in the 1991 Gold Cup, will begin his new career as soon as he has found a suitable base.

This (clearly amicable) parting of the generations came as a surprise to many, who had assumed that Mark Pitman would inherit the licence at Weathercock House on Jenny's retirement. Yet as the present incumbent pointed out, "nobody should ever make any assumptions about anything in this life", which is a useful rule for anyone in the business of horses or betting.

As her son confirmed, "my mother certainly has no intention of retiring yet, and after a meeting at the weekend it was decided that it was best for me to go out on my own."

Mark Pitman's departure will end a long professional association with the Lambourn yard, one of the most consistently successful in the country. "We wish him all the best," his mother said. "Naturally, like any mother, I hope he is a success, and his time here will stand him in good stead for the future.

"Last year much to my delight, my sister Mandy Bowlby took out a licence to train, and I'm very proud that Mark has now done the same. If either or both beat me in the Gold Cup or Grand National, I will be the first to give them a big hug. I don't know at the moment when I will retire. I'm getting married later this year and a lot of things are changing in my life."

Rather like one of her own steeplechasers, which returns year after year for a fresh campaign, Jenny Pitman has been a major force in National Hunt racing for so long that it seems a little strange to find that she is just 50 years of age. It therefore seems likely that the possibility of early retirement existed only in in the daydreams of racecourse officials who have felt the rough edge of her famously prickly temper.

Mark Pitman, meanwhile, at the age of 30, could hardly have a better foundation for his solo career, since his time at Weathercock Hourse, in addition to periods with Martin Pipe and David Nicholson, allows him to draw on experience with the three most successful trainers of the last decade. The strength of the Pitman dynasty, you feel, will be doubled, not halved, by his departure.

Another assumption which appeared wide of the mark yesterday was that Dorans Pride, probably the best staying chaser in Ireland, will represent one of the best chances of Irish success at the Cheltenham Festival. Though Michael Hourigan's chaser is as short as 9-1 for the Gold Cup, the trainer appears extremely reluctant to subject Dorans Pride to such stiff opposition, no matter how well he performs in a novice chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

"We'll have to wait and see how we get on there," Hourigan said yesterday, "but I don't think he's mature enough and it will depend on ourselves more than the horse. It's a big decision and I don't want to mess him up. You wouldn't put in a novice against Steffi Graf at tennis, and it's the same story."

Indeed, Hourigan is inclined to bypass the Festival altogether, even though Dorans Pride might well start favourite if he lined up for the Sun Alliance Chase. "I would imagine he'll stay novice chasing in Ireland," the trainer said. "There's plenty of good prize-money to be picked up between Fairyhouse and Punchestown. He nearly died last year with two bouts of colic, so we're lucky enough just to have him without pushing him too. There'll be next year, please God."

Since Dorans Pride is a former winner of the Stayers' Hurdle, Hourigan can at least be sure that his horse would both act around Cheltenham and get the Gold Cup trip. No such luck for Gordon Richards, trainer of One Man, who is still puzzling over the grey's run at Cheltenham three days ago. That outing, you may recall, was supposed to decide once and for all what One Man will be doing in Festival week, but horses rarely provide a straight answer to a straight question and the choice between the Gold Cup and Champion Chase remains a difficult one.

"There will be a lot more talking and thinking before Cheltenham," Richards said, and there will be another race, too. "He will go to the Comet Chase at Ascot [on Wednesday week]. He might as well go for a pounds 60,000 race as have a gallop at home."

n Walter Swinburn is to appear before magistrates next month after being charged with assault. The three-times Derby-winning jockey, 35, is also facing a criminal-damage charge following an incident at a restaurant in Newmarket on Friday. Swinburn, who earlier this month completed a 200- mile charity walk through Ireland, has been released on bail pending his court appearance on 27 February.

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