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Obituary: Stan Mellor

Three-time champion jump jockey became first to ride 1,000 winners and loved 'ambushing' rivals at last fence


Unassuming: Stan Mellor

Unassuming: Stan Mellor

Unassuming: Stan Mellor

Stan Mellor, who has died aged 83, was three times champion jump jockey and the first to ride 1,000 winners; later he enjoyed a respectable, if less illustrious, career as a trainer.

Mellor's physique suggested that he might have been more suited to riding on the Flat; throughout his career in the saddle he never weighed more than 8st 10lb. But what he lacked in strength he made up for with guile. John Oaksey once called him "very much a thinking jockey", and Mellor himself liked to say that his gift was "getting into a horse's brain".

He was particularly noted for "ambushing" his rivals at the last obstacle in a race, a tactic he used to famous effect when steering Stalbridge Colonist - a 25-1 shot - to a half-length victory over the great Arkle in the 1966 Hennessy Gold Cup.

In 2003 Mellor said: "If you win with strength people see it. And if you win with style people see it. But if you win with guile people don't see it. People say Arkle was beaten by the 35lb weight difference in the 1966 Hennessy, but he could have won the race by 25 lengths. Instead Stalbridge Colonist beat him for a turn of foot."

Turning into the straight, Arkle was making the running with Stalbridge Colonist lying third. At the ditch, Mellor got on to the inside, behind Arkle, and then dropped about four lengths off him. Arkle's jockey, Pat Taaffe, apparently didn't realise he was there, and coming to the last, Mellor hoicked his horse out to his right: "I was flying into the last while Arkle was happily minding his own business winning the race in a canter."

Robin Oakley, in his book Sixty Years Of Jump Racing: From Arkle To McCoy, described Mellor's technique thus: "It did not always look pretty but it was effective, gaining precious momentum and wrong-footing his opponents. Getting the worst of a run-in battle, he would drop back just enough to switch and come at his surprised rival on the other side, the manoeuvre helping to convince an uncertain partner that he had it in him to win."

The son of a timber merchant, Stan Mellor was born on April 10, 1937, and left his school in Manchester when he was 14. Despite his early prowess as a show jumper, his father encouraged him instead to go into racing, arguing that it might prove more lucrative.

He rode his first winner - Straight Border - in a selling hurdle at Wolverhampton in January 1954 and three months later turned professional. He won the jockeys' championship three years running, between 1960 and 1962, and was on course to make it four in a row when his mount Eastern Harvest fell in the inaugural running, in 1963, of the Schweppes Gold Trophy at Aintree.

Although Mellor would never again be champion jockey, many of his biggest wins (including the triumph over Arkle) were yet to come. He had already won the 1962 Whitbread Gold Cup on Frenchman's Cove and the 1963 Champion Chase at Cheltenham on Sandy Abbot, but his list of successes as a jockey would feature two King George VI Chases (Frenchman's Cove, 1964, and Titus Oates, 1969); the Mackeson Gold Cup (Super Flash, 1964); the SGB Chase (Vultrix, 1965); a Mildmay Memorial Chase (Stalbridge Colonist, 1968); and two Great Yorkshire Chases (Chavara, 1961, and King's Nephew, 1964).

On December 18, 1971, Mellor became the first National Hunt jockey to ride 1,000 winners when Ouzo won the Christmas Spirit Novice Chase at Nottingham. Six months later he retired from the saddle after Arne Folly obliged at Stratford -the 1,035th winner of his career.

Mellor set up as a trainer at Lambourn, later selling his yard to buy a much larger establishment near Swindon, which he named Pollardstown after the horse he sent out to win the 1979 Triumph Hurdle at Cheltenham.

His 700 successes as a trainer included a second Triumph Hurdle (Saxon Farm, 1983) and two Whitbread Gold Cups (Royal Mail, 1980, and Lean Ar Aghaidh). On the Flat, he sent out Al Trui to win the Stewards' Cup at Goodwood in 1985. Mellor surrendered his licence in 2002, selling his yard and retiring to Ashbury, near Lambourn.

An unassuming man who was dedicated to his sport and to the welfare of his fellow riders, Mellor was the first chairman of the Jockeys' Association, helping to introduce significant safety improvements such as better helmets. He also represented the riders on the Injured Jockeys' Fund.

Stan Mellor married his wife, Elain, in 1963, the year of his horrible fall in the Schweppes at Aintree. The directors of Schweppes sent him a silver cigarette box inscribed: "To Stan Mellor - for falling heavily twice in one year." Elain Mellor and her two daughters with Stan, Dana and Linz, all rode winners under National Hunt rules.

Sunday Independent