Knight hands over reins to be with best mate


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The Independent Online

If some of the circumstances of her retirement seem fairly poignant, then at least Henrietta Knight has contrived a sequel that confounds convention in satisfyingly consistent fashion. For the trainer who won so many hearts in her oddball partnership with Terry Biddlecombe has arranged to transfer most of their horses to the care of another hobbling, plain-talking veteran of debilitating sporting triumph, in Mick Channon.

It is the wear and tear sustained by Biddlecombe as a champion jump jockey, rather than the stroke he suffered last October, that chiefly prompted the announcement Knight made yesterday. His lack of mobility nowadays is such that she has decided, at 65, to tend to her husband without also having to supervise a string of horses round the clock. "It's all those racing falls Terry had back in the Sixties," she said. "He broke 46 bones and now he's paying for it."

Knight has also been baffled, and hurt, by the mysterious neglect that followed so soon after the loss of Best Mate. One way or another, she has now turned to Channon, the former footballer who has reached the top of his second vocation primarily as a trainer of Flat horses. Based a few miles apart in Berkshire, at Lockinge and West Ilsley respectively, Knight and Channon have long borrowed each other's facilities and Best Mate himself was once a regular visitor to the latter's gallops.

It was that marvellous horse who secured Knight's legacy with three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups, between 2002 and 2004 – not least in the forbearance she showed in campaigning him so sparingly. Since adopted as orthodoxy, at the time her approach exposed her to impatient criticism. The consensus now is that Best Mate would never otherwise have achieved such longevity.

Knight, a former schoolteacher, has saddled more than 700 other winners in the 23 years since taking out the licence she will surrender next month. She has especially prospered with grand, imposing steeplechasing types, being prepared to give them all the time they need, albeit she remains aggrieved by undue stereotyping, pointing out that Best Mate himself was unlucky not to win a novice hurdle on his first visit to the Festival. She also discovered unsuspected versatility in Edredon Bleu, who won both the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase and the 2003 King George VI Chase, not to mention four runnings of the Peterborough Chase.

Both these horses carried the colours of Jim Lewis, who subsequently astonished Knight by having horses trained at the more fashionable yard of the champion trainer, Paul Nicholls. Despite a drop in numbers, and a series of quiet seasons, Knight enjoyed a much better spell last winter, notably in welcoming Somersby as a final Grade One winner in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot in January.

The horses heading to Channon will continue to do their foundation work at Lockinge. "Mick and I get on really well, and I think it could be an interesting new venture," Knight said. "He, too, enjoys the National Hunt scene and is already making his presence felt in that sphere with recent good winners from only a handful of runners.

"It's probably time to hand over to younger people. We've had some marvellous times. I've thoroughly enjoyed every moment and I am hugely grateful for the backing that I have received over the years."

Channon was to be found in a more familiar guise yesterday, saddling the favourite for the Height Of Fashion Stakes at Goodwood, but Nayarra proved unable to land a blow behind Coquet, who travelled well and narrowly stemmed the late thrust of Minidress. Hughie Morrison, who had warned that the filly would get tired, predicts plenty of improvement even in the week now dividing her from the Investec Oaks, for which she is now a best price of 25-1. Morrison said: "Coquet may not have the most ability but she's certainly the toughest."

On the day one of the British Turf's most accomplished females bowed out, another received the latest boost to her career. By winning the mount on the Derby outsider, Cavaleiro, Hayley Turner will become only the second woman to ride in the great race at Epsom.

Turf account

Chris McGrath's Nap

Los Nadis (7.45 Musselburgh) Dual winner round here and has continued to thrive over hurdles.

Next best

Basseterre (4.05 Haydock) Runs off the same mark as when collared late, idling, at Kempton.

One to watch

Hidden Justice (Amanda Perrett) Finished well into midfield at Goodwood yesterday.

Where the money's going

Wrote is 8-1 from 16-1 with Ladbrokes for the Abu Dhabi Irish 2,000 Guineas tomorrow.