Stan Mellor, whose death was announced on Saturday at the age of 83, was Britain’s champion National Hunt jockey three times, the first rider to reach 1,000 jumps winners and also a successful trainer later in his career. He may be best remembered, though, as the jockey who pulled off a feat that many thought impossible by beating the great Arkle at the height of his powers.
Stalbridge Colonist, Mellor’s mount in the 1966 Hennessy Gold Cup, was getting 35lb from Arkle and his jockey executed waiting tactics to perfection against the hot favourite, moving towards the lead on the approach to the final fence and then quickening to the front on the run-in, giving Pat Taaffe and Arkle, with 12st 7lb to carry, little chance to respond. Mellor was narrowly beaten in the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard the same horse a few months later.
Mellor was jumping’s champion three seasons in a row from 1960 to 1962, and seemed sure to land a fourth championship in 1963 when he suffered terrible facial injuries in a fall in the Schweppes Gold Trophy at Aintree. He was forced to sit out the rest of the campaign, allowing Josh Gifford to make up a 20-winner deficit for his first title, and Mellor did not win the championship again.
At a time when strength was often lauded as a rider’s greatest asset and whip rules were far less stringent than today’s, Mellor was a jockey who employed an outstanding racing brain alongside natural horsemanship and guile to pilot many of his winners to victory.
He remained a prolific and successful National Hunt rider throughout the 1960s and became the first jockey to reach 1,000 winners over jumps when Ouzo landed a novice chase at Nottingham on 18 December 1971.
He retired from the saddle at the end of the 1971-72 season with a career total of 1035 winners, and was awarded the MBE for services to racing shortly afterwards. He was the first chairman of the Jockeys’ Association and also served on the board of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.
Mellor turned to training after retiring as a rider and sent out more than 750 winners both on the Flat and over jumps. He saddled two winners of the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in Pollardstown (1979) and Saxon Farm (1983), and also took the Stayers’ Hurdle in 1991 with King’s Curate. Royal Mail (1980) and Lean Ar Aghaidh (1987) both took the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown, while on the Flat, Mellor saddled Al Trui to land the Stewards’ Cup at Glorious Goodwood in 1985, when he obliged the punters as the 9-1 favourite.
There were no racegoers to cheer the field home in this year’s Stewards’ Cup, as a result of the government’s decision on Friday to cancel a pilot scheme for the return of spectators to elite sporting events which would have seen 5,000 annual members enjoying the action on the final day of Goodwood’s biggest meeting.
The race produced a typically close and hard-fought finish, however, as Summerghand finished fast and late down the centre of the track under Danny Tudhope to edge out Kimifive, who was racing against the far rail, by a head.
Summerghand came up with a similar charge in Wokingham Handicap at Royal Ascot last month but a fraction of a second too late to catch Hey Jonesy.
“He’s always looked like he could win a nice handicap like this but he’s a bit tricky,” Tudhope said. “He was very unlucky [at Royal Ascot] but it just shows how good he is that he can come back to another race like this and have a result that goes his way this time.”
Like all the winners at Goodwood this week, Tudhope and Summerghand returned to unsaddle in near-silence, and the bitter disappointment after the last-minute cancellation of the track’s trial with racegoers was still palpable here on Saturday.
Preparing for the pilot cost the course at least £100,000, but it has at least ensured that not all of the food to feed the anticipated 5,000 spectators will go to waste. Nine hundred punnets of strawberries will be turned into jam in the Goodwood kitchens this week and distributed to local food banks.