Obituary: Neville Crump

Richard Griffiths
Tuesday 21 January 1997 00:02 GMT

Neville Crump's abilities as a trainer secured him two National Hunt trainers championships, three Grand Nationals, five Scottish Nationals and a hat-trick of Whitbread Gold Cups, establishing him as one of the leading post-war trainers.

But it was not just his role as a master trainer of high-class staying chasers that helped him make such an impact on the racing scene; ribald humour and unswerving loyalty to those he employed were other trademarks.

The most famous tale about him concerns the time he was asked directions from his base at Middleham, North Yorkshire, to nearby Leyburn by a group of Japanese tourists. There is no polite way of recounting Crump's reply to such a simple request. Legend has it he told them: "You found your fucking way to Pearl Harbour. You can find your own fucking way to Leyburn."

Then there was the time Crump was asked if a certain elderly member of the aristocracy would make a suitable racecourse steward. Once again Crump's reply took no hostages. "Oh, he'd be perfect," Crump said. "He's deaf, he's blind and he knows fuck all about racing."

Such a response would make Crump appear to be one of the most hostile, unapproachable men ever to set foot on a racecouse. Those who knew him best have always insisted that was not so.

Gerry Scott, the man who started last year's Grand National, rode as stable jockey to Crump - and partnered his third of three Grand National winners, Merryman, in 1960. Only 12 days before the race Scott broke his collarbone in a racecourse fall. Few trainers would have allowed a jockey to have ridden in a race as prestigious as the National burdened by a major question-mark over his fitness. Crump did, just as he had allowed Scott successfully to partner Springbok in the previous year's Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury with his wrist in plaster.

Scott has spoken of Crump being "more like a father" to him than a retaining trainer. The loyalty the older man showed to his jockey can be measured by the fact that Scott had visited Crump three times a week since his hospitalisation two years ago. Crump's other jockeys during his long training career, Arthur Thompson, Johnny East, Pat Buckley, and Colin Hawkins, were treated with the same loyalty.

Having first taken out a licence in 1937 - he retired only in 1989 - Crump was champion trainer twice, in the 1951/52 and 1956/57 seasons, and in winning all the major staying chases in the calendar bar the Cheltenham Gold Cup, helped establish Middleham as a major training centre, one to rival the southern-based stronghold of Lambourn. As well as his trio of Aintree triumphs, he also won five Scottish Grand Nationals and two runnings of the Welsh equivalent.

Crump inherited his affinity for horses from his father Charles, who was a rancher in Australia before becoming a master of foxhounds in England. Crump junior was educated at Marlborough and Balliol College, Oxford, before serving in the 4th Hussars, which led to a spell as riding instructor. After leaving that regiment, he acted as assistant trainer to Sonny Hall before setting up his own small yard on Salisbury Plain.

He returned to the army on the outbreak of the Second World War, which saw him posted to North Yorkshire after serving in the Middle East. After that he trained briefly in County Durham before beginning his long, successful link with Middleham.

It was 10 years after first taking out a trainer's licence that Crump made his first major impact on jump racing thanks to the Grand National victory of Sheila's Cottage, a temperamental mare who Crump nonetheless had huge affection for. She began Crump's National sequence with a one-length win over First of the Dandies at odds of 50-1.

That victory saw Crump become a "fashionable" name, and his string quickly expand from around six horses to nearly 30. Sheila's Cottage's success was followed a year later by the first of his quintet of Scottish National wins with Wot No Sun, a horse who was also twice placed at Aintree.

While some trainers wait a lifetime for Grand National success, only four years separated Crump's first and second triumphs, this time with Teal, whose stablemate Wot No Sun was third for good measure.

The first televised coverage of the National coincided with Crump's third win, with Merrymaster's runaway 15-length success. It was the last National before the formidable fences were modified.

That hat-trick of National wins - only Fred Rimell trained more winners of the big spectacular - was undoubtedly the highlight of Crump's training career, but he also achieved a notable trio of wins in the Whitbread Gold Cup with Much Obliged, Hoodwinked, and Dormant.

He was 72 years old when he won his fifth Scottish National with Canton. His fourth Scottish National win had come three years earlier with Salkfeld in the same season that he won his second Welsh National with Narvik.

Neville Franklin Crump, racehorse trainer: born Beckenham, Kent 27 December 1910; married Sylvia Bradley (died 1992; one daughter); died Scotch Corner, North Yorkshire 18 January 1997.

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