Dick ready to saddle up for a fresh challenge

Horse trainer Dick Allan with race horse "Always Best".
Horse trainer Dick Allan with race horse "Always Best".

GIVING up his licence at the end of 2010 was a great wrench for horse trainer Dick Allan.

The 62-year-old has been training racehorses in the Borders for more than 30 years. He has sent out runners to compete at the highest level throughout the country. Horses such as Sunbird, Pat’s Jester and Clay County amassed significant amounts of prize money for their owners while in Dick’s care.

But, like many small yards, Dick has struggled during the last few years both with the economic climate and the dwindling numbers of owners and horses, and is looking to begin another chapter in his long and, on the whole, illustrious career as a trainer.

He told TheSouthern: “Numbers have been going steadily down. Some through injury, but mostly through lack of owners. When I was younger most farmers had a brood mare and they raced on a regular basis. You don’t get that any more and numbers of good racehorses in the area are dwindling.

“Not many trainers in the area have a big pool of horses nowadays. It feels like we too are being put out to grass as we are getting older.

“I would love to carry on. It’s my life, but the way it is at the moment there just aren’t enough horses around for everyone. I would quite happily take on the role of an assistant trainer and I am keeping my eyes and ears open both here in the Borders and further afield.”

Since the 1980s Dick has produced Flat and National Hunt winners from his tightly-run yards at St Boswells, Cornhill and, ultimately, Purves Hall in Berwickshire, where he personally fed them, rode them out and oversaw every aspect of their care.

Born and educated in Kelso, Dick helped out at Anderson’s stables in the town at the age of 11. He revealed: “They looked after Merryman II who went on to win the Grand National in 1960 and that’s really what gave me the racing bug, it never left me, I still have it.”

On leaving school he went to work with Noel Robertson at Haggerston where he looked after Painted Warrior, a point-to-pointer who went on to win 17 races under rules, including the Buccleuch Cup. After working for trainer Bobby Fairbairn at Selkirk for a further two years Dick decided it was time to start up on his own.

“I did have 37 rides as a jockey and rode two winners, but I never really thought I would end up as a jockey,” he explained. “I was always a bit on the heavy side but I did really want to be a trainer and these guys were great to learn from. I learned a lot from Bobby as he could read a horse really well and I learned to do that as well by just watching them.”

One of Dick’s colleagues back then was Harry Bell of Midshiels who, on losing his licence in 1985, sent his horses over to Dick, a huge compliment indeed.

Dick explained: “Harry always maintained that he was the best reader of a horse and that I was second best, so when he lost his licence he sent them to me. We became good friends and he helped me a lot in the early days when I was based at St Boswells.”

Although Dick went on to have numerous winners over the years, it’s a trio of seconds that stir his memories. Pat’s Jester was beaten by The Fellow in the 1992 King George VI over hurdles, while Sunbird lost out twice on the flat in 2003 in both the Ebor and Cesarewitch.

Dick recalled: “It was like a knife in the heart watching the end of the King George, I really thought we had it, he just needed to jump the last and keep going, but The Fellow came by and took it.

“It was great to be second in these races, but at the same time it would have been fantastic to have won.”

Another highlight of Dick’s career came in 2005 when he had saddled Bollin Thomas for Epsom’s Amateur Riders’ Derby, and the gelding duly obliged in the hands of Mehdi Lesage, a 30-year-old Frenchman who gave the winner, a 33-1 chance, a fine ride. It was a close-run thing whether the horse made the race at all after the travelling party got stuck on the M25 for two hours due to an accident.

“By the time we got round to sorting out jockeys, there were only two left,” said Dick. “Lesage and the German fellow who rode the second.

“When I was giving him his instructions through the interpreter, I told him not to bother coming back if he got beaten and I think the interpreter took it a bit literally. However, he did the job.”

Now back in the jobs market Dick is hoping to pass some of his vast experience on as well as see one or two more winners past the post.

“I got the chance to go down south to work about 15 years ago and turned it down,” he concluded. “That’s probably the only regret I have.

“I’ve had some great laughs and I wouldn’t swap my career with anyone.”