05 Feb Whatever happened to….. jockey Alan Brown
ALAN Brown rode some of the best northern racing legends of the late 1970s and 80s. He worked for the great MH Easterby, that’s Miles Henry to you and me, the greatest dual purpose trainer we’ve ever seen. He now trains horses near Malton. Racing Up North caught up with him…
Alan, you rode almost 250 winners and was lucky to get the leg-up on so many good horses. Which horse was the best you rode and why?
It’s got to be Night Nurse. He was a horse who so wanted to win and would gallop his rivals into submission. I didn’t ride him over hurdles and he must have been an absolute machine in his heyday. But he was so brave.
You won the Arkle on Clayside in 1981 after almost falling at the fourth last. What can you remember of that race?
Everything was going to plan and halfway down the back he just left his back legs in a fence. Luckily the horse stayed straight, so I could get my balance back. As daft as it sounds he travelled better after the mistake. It woke him up. I probably lost four or five lengths but he was hard on the bridle straight after and eventually I probably got to the front too soon. Watch the race here.
Ryeman gave you your second Festival winner in the Arkle in 1983. You had good horses like The Tsarevich and Kilbrittain Castle behind. That was a positive ride, taking it up a long way from home. Was that the plan?
Ryeman was a very good horse but was very quirky. I’d won on him at Warwick but then he hadn’t gone a yard for me at Market Rasen. This was one of the guvnor’s best-ever training performances. That horse never felt better in his life than he did that day. His eyes were popping out of his head. It was like being sat on a cat on a hot tin roof. We put the blinkers back on and he had to be in front or he sulked. He didn’t get to the front as early as I’d wanted but when he did get to the front it was a case of get on with it.
MH Easterby: a dual-purpose genius
Why was Peter Easterby so successful and what was his secret?
He knew just how good or bad the horses were. He never missed a canter or a piece of work. Often when you rode work on one he would be able to tell you more by watching them. He never missed a trick. And if a horse wasn’t good enough he would move them on. I owe everything to him because he gave me so many chances on so many good horses.
Alan on Cybrandian.
You became known for your association with Cybrandian, who went on to be second to The Thinker in the 1987 Gold Cup with Chris Grant on board after you retired. What other successes did you enjoy?
I won loads of big races. One of the first was on Father Delaney in the Massey Ferguson at Cheltenham. I won the Schweppes on Within The Law, Black and White Whiskey Gold Cup on Night Nurse, H and T Walker Goddess Chase on Cybrandian and a Fighting Fifth on Sea Pigeon. One of my best memories was riding a treble at Newbury one Saturday including a spare on Bachelors Hall after Richard Linley was injured. Bachelors Hall was a good horse.
You rode Night Nurse to come second in the 1981 Cheltenham Gold Cup to stablemate Little Owl. That would have made him the first horse to do the Champion Hurdle-Gold Cup double. What were your emotions at the end of that race?
It was purely down to the bravery of Night Nurse. They went a good gallop and on the second circuit I decided to put the pressure on a bit. He was jumping brilliant and everything was going to plan. Turning in I got half outpaced and he lost his action between the last two fences and that probably cost him the race. Then he showed amazing courage and guts to rally like he did up the hill. Then again, Little Owl was a seriously good horse. Little Owl never actually fulfilled his potential because he was never the same horse after the Gold Cup. At first I was gutted but it was a winner for the yard and Jim Wilson, who rode Little Owl, was a lovely bloke. Relive that great finish here.
Alan on Night Nurse
What was it like being understudy to Jonjo O’Neill at Peter Easterby’s yard?
Me and Jonjo shared the rides. Often, on a big Saturday, Jonjo would go for numbers of winners, so he might stay in the north and I would head south to ride one. When you are riding for a champion trainer it was not a bad position to be in. We got on really well and helped each other along. If there was a problem we would tell each other.
So close to immortality
Was there one that got away? i.e a race that you felt you should have won or a horse who never quite fulfilled his potential?
That was on Night Nurse in the King George in 1980 when he unseated me at the last. He had made a real bad mistake three out but still got back into contention at the last. Silver Buck was wandering all over the place and I’m pretty sure I would have beaten him. The other one was on Cybrandian in Dawn Run’s 1986 Gold Cup when the metal pin on the stirrups broke and I had to pull him up there and then. If it had been three or fences from home, I would have persevered but because there was a circuit and a half to go I had no choice but to pull him up.
You retired from riding in 1986. How difficult was it to give up?
I never broke a bone or suffered concussion. I was very lucky. I always said if I’d broken a bone I’d have packed it in. I had been struggling with my weight for a couple of years. I used to live in the sauna at home and I was even struggling to do 11 stone at one point. The other reason was that the guvnor rang me up to say Jonjo had packed in and he had Lorcan Wyer coming over from Ireland as well as other young jockeys like Russ Garritty and Roger Marley, so he would not be able to offer me as many rides. To be fair it came at the right time as I was struggling with the weight. I had ridden so many good horses that I didn’t want to go on riding bad ones.
What have you been doing since?
I decided to train. But my heart wasn’t really in it. It was more a case of, ‘what can I do?’ Then I set up a horse transporter business up which was very successful. People started asking me about me training again so me and my wife Claire bought a pig farm and turned into a racing yard near Malton. We have 17 horses at the moment. We are only a small yard and it is very difficult to compete with the bigger yards. They are clearing up. Racing is a numbers game.
You moved to Malton in 1975 and never really left. What’s so special about the Malton area?
We’re at a place called Yedingham just outside Malton. Malton was a brilliant place to bring up children but the area is a lot more populated now.
Present day jump racing in the north is a far cry from the glory days of the 70s and 80s. But with Brian Hughes doing so well and trainers like Brian Ellison having some proper Festival horses, do you think jumping in the north and Scotland is beginning a revival?
Those days will never come back. Arthur Stephenson, Jimmy Fitzgerald, Michael Dickinson. But there are very good trainers up here who just don’t have the ammunition. There are also plenty of good riders coming through too. And the girl jockeys are doing fantastically well.
Is the BHA and race planners doing enough to support racing in the north?
A lot of money goes into the big races which doesn’t help the small trainers. You get £20k races with four or five runners and 0 to 60 races split into two divisions. The thing they did about offering pay prize money down to 8th is great for small yards. They should distribute the prize money a bit better.
Finally, any other memories stick in the mind..
I’m a big Newcastle fan and met one of my heroes Jackie Milburn after winning the North East Most Promising Sportsman in 1981. I was also asked to go and meet the Queen Mother in her private box at Ascot after winning the Black and White Whisky Gold Cup on Night Nurse. She was amazing and her knowledge of the horses was remarkable.
For more details about Alan and his training yard visit http://www.alanbrownracing.co.uk/index.html