OBITUARY: Jack Holt

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Jack Holt was one of a vanishing breed of racehorse trainers.

Always based some distance away from the main training centres of Newmarket and Lambourn, he operated from Tunworth Down, near Basingstoke, and established a reputation as a very shrewd placer of horses, especially sprint handicappers.

Holt's father, Len, who trained at Gatwick, in Sussex, was controversially warned off the Turf in the late Forties. Jack had assisted him from the age of 13, and rode three winners as an amateur before taking out a licence to train himself in 1949. He dined out regularly on the story of those early days. Taking a push-bike, he cycled to Petworth, and rented a field where he trained a handful of horses. He had one saddle and some pounds 40 to his name. He mucked out the inmates himself and rode them in all their exercise. His first winner, King Rebel, came at the now defunct Wye racecourse in May 1950.

From then on he progressed slowly, never having a lot of horses in his care but always finding the right opportunities for them. For many years he concentrated on jumpers, enjoying his greatest success when Stepherion won the George Duller Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1965-66. Holt backed him at 100-9, buying a new car and paying a year's bills with the winnings.

He abandoned National Hunt racing when a favourite hurdler belonging to his wife, Ann, was killed in action. The move to Tunworth Down came in the mid- Sixties, and Holt soon demonstrated that he was equally adept on the Flat. Most of his winners were sprinters, but in 1970 he sent out a charismatic middle- distance mare called Quortina to win five races in a row at the Windsor evening meetings. The Windsor executive named a race in her honour - it is still run today - and Quortina returned to win it in 1972.

Holt's sprinters did him proud year after year. He began with a very fast horse, Epsom Imp, and many years later came close to winning the race he prized above almost any other, the Stewards Cup at Goodwood, with both Coppermill Lad and Duplicity. The latter was backed down from 66- 1 in 1992 in the 24 hours before the event, and found only the flying filly Lochsong too good. Holt loved handicappers, but also trained the high-class two-year-olds Sweet Monday and, arguably his best horse, Argentum.

Jack Holt was an immensely likeable, straightforward man. In these days of huge strings, millionaire owners, and inaccessible trainers, Holt had no difficulty in retaining the common touch. Complete strangers would come up to him at the races and inquire about his chances that day. I have seen him stop what he was doing and answer every question in detail. He was a clever trainer, and undoubtedly the canniest of gamblers when one of his charges was "right"; but there was nothing secretive about him. In all his years in a fiercely competitive sport, where making enemies is not difficult, no one had a hard word to say about him.

Several of the wiliest trainers of the post-war era were based not far away from his Basingstoke yard - Les Hall, R.C. Sturdy, the great Bill Wightman. Holt easily stood comparison with any of them, and there is no higher praise than that.

Ian Carnaby

Leonard John Holt, racehorse trainer: born 28 September 1928; married; died 3 October 1995.

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