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HORSE RACING: A man whose company was always a treat to experience
I LAST saw Terry Biddlecombe in the middle of November at West Lockinge Farm.
Sitting in a chair in front of the television covered by a blanket, he looked very frail and was clearly in great pain.
However, his mind was as sharp as ever as he recalled in his distinctive Gloucestershire burr winning that forthcoming weekend’s big race at Cheltenham – now the Paddy Power Gold Cup, but then the Mackeson – twice as a jockey on Gay Trip in 1969 and 1971.
Those were two of the many big-race wins he enjoyed in a glittering career, which saw him crowned champion jockey three times.
And it was with no little pride that he related how his regular visitors during his illness included Tony McCoy and John Francome, two of the greatest jockeys.
It was good to see Terry again, but it was a far cry from how I remembered him during the best part of 20 years since he moved to West Lockinge in 1994, a year before he married Henrietta Knight.
A colourful character, his arrival provided the spark Knight needed – not just in her own life – but also that of her training career.
Together they became a formidable team, producing a string of high-class chasers – most notably Best Mate, whom Biddlecombe was quick to spot at a point-to-point in Lismore, County Waterford, in 1999.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Best Mate went on to win three Cheltenham Gold Cups from 2002-4, and the scenes involving Biddlecombe and Knight as they ran to greet each other down the horsewalk following the third memorable win sealed their place in the hearts of an adoring racing public.
They also led to memorable celebrations and open days at West Lockinge where Knight regularly welcomed the public and the press – with Terry at the heart of it.
I remember a preview day before one of the Gold Cup triumphs that Terry insisted myself and Tim Russon, from Central TV, finished off an excellent bottle of vintage port before departing.
We duly obliged, of course. But that was typical of his hospitality.
Days on the gallops at West Lockinge with Terry were always fun, even if you didn’t know quite what to expect.
On one occasion, I recall him turning the air blue as he talked to the stable staff after Racing Demon had been out at exercise, but it was good-natured banter. In her book on Best Mate, Knight wrote: “His swear words were fairly extensive, but there is so much humour behind their frequent use that they are never taken seriously by those who know him.”
As I left that day in November, Terry put out his right arm and shook my hand.
It was as if he knew he wouldn’t see me again.
Sadly, that’s the way it turned out, but it’s hugely outweighed by memories of all the good times he brought to West Lockinge.
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