The trainer turned bystander

John Bosely, elder statesman of racing, has a detached view of today's Grand National.
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The Independent Travel
John Bosely, who at 66 is an elder statesman among National Hunt trainers, never really made it to the big time. This Oxfordshire man, regarded with affection as someone who loved horses and horse people, was never one to put money-making first. "I don't think the racing ever made much money. But we were farmers too," he says.

Last month, the mild Mr Bosely retired, so he notes the runners at this weekend's Grand National at Aintree with a degree of detachment. "My son Martin runs the stables now," he says, and, beyond helping out from time to time, he is free to consider a return to hunting. "I haven't ridden this season, but I won't say I've given up." It is hard to tell which is uppermost in his mind and voice: intended mischief or regretted caution.

Hunting is one of the few determinedly dangerous pastimes of the middle- aged. But then, John Bosely was a serious amateur jockey before he took up training. He knows the horrors of the Grand National: "I fell at the 14th on Dark Stranger in 1955," he says. His scrapbook has a picture of him in mid-air, upside down,above his horse's head. It wasn't the fall that fractured his skull in 1959 and forced his retirement from riding, but even in a yellowing piece of newsprint it is vividly painful.

Also in the scrapbook is the traditional scene of a hard-living pack of jockeys in full flight on tin trays down the stairs of the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool before the Grand National. Bosely was regularly amongst the leaders in his young days. Even more confident in his own county, as a trainer he once shot out the searchlights of Brize Norton RAF airfield. This time it was not high jinks that motivated him: the lights were disturbing one of his fancied runners before a big race.

The son of a farmer and butcher, who was a bookie when off-course betting was illegal, Bosely is a stoutly yeoman figure. whom it is hard to imagine at a jockey's weight. In the Fifties and Sixties he was rare among amateur jockeys. "Most of the amateurs were real gentlemen, lords even." He did not harbour delusions of grandeur: "I never wanted a sports car or anything."

The business of betting your shirt on something as inherently unreliable as a horse, let alone on the outcome of the competition of several horses, attracts chancers and charmers. Bosely is not the sort to mourn the old days. "It's as much fun as ever," he says, but one has the feeling that he rather disapproves of the way "it's a business now. People come in and think they'll make money." The more rational view is that owning horses should be indulged in only by people who can afford to lose what they invest, if "investment" is quite the word for watching money being turned into hot breath on an early morning canter.

Betting, by the way, is generally governed by the reverse proposition: you haven't had a bet until you are very fearful of the outcome. Bosely hardly ever bets: seeing it from the bookie's point of view must have robbed it of its glamour.

Racing has become more democratic, he thinks. "Years ago, only the wealthy owned horses. Now even people in factories may join a syndicate and pay something like pounds 20 or pounds 30 a week." On such a basis, someone with pounds 1,800 to spare could buy into a well-bred horse with a long Bosely and Grand National lineage. John's son Martin, who runs the Bosely outfit at Kingston Lisle Farm, just over the hill from the glamorous spreads at Lambourn, has on offer shares in Smart Lord and Lady Malord, whose grand dam was Eyecatcher. This Bosely-owned and trained horse was third to Red Rum at Aintree in 1976 and 1977. The stables charges modest fees and does not yet attract the Arab owner, or the flashier or grander sort.

From now on, it will be Martin who fields the calls from anxious owners, and John Bosely is glad of that, though he and his wife Sylvia will be in demand for the parties which have kept the stables' punters more than sweet for decades. It was at one such bash at Warwick races last month when Martin, a noted jockey himself, cleaned up in the tipsters' competition. John is proud of the family side of things: "It is quite something to see your son win on a horse you own, bred and trained." He now has a grandson entering the fray as an amateur jockey - so another game youngster with no pretensions to be a nob and entirely without side will help keep the racing game decently rooted in its country ways.

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