I feel honoured and privileged to have known Josh Gifford, writes Phil Bell, executive director in the south east for Northern Racing.
I’ve worked in racecourse management for 14 years but for more than a decade before that I was merely a racing fan watching on the TV and in betting shops. Josh was one of my heroes because so much of my racing education was spent watching his horses winning the big races in the calendar.
So many of his stars were household names in the sport of jump racing.
The list is endless – Deep Sensation, Bradbury Star, Aldaniti, Vodkatini, Approaching, Brief Gale, Golden Minstrel, Door Latch, Kybo, Brave Highlander, Paddyboro, Rouble, Skycab, Pragada, French Goblin and Envopak Token.
I remember being in a Ladbrokes shop in 1989 and having £10 each-way on Paddyboro in the Mildmay of Flete, the closing race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. With stable jockey Richard Rowe in the saddle, Paddyboro swept into the lead on the home turn and sauntered clear for an easy three-length success. Josh had prepared the horse perfectly to take the prize and I was just under £60 better off. Happy days.
Josh was based in Findon and I felt proud that in the late 70s, the 80s and early 90s, Sussex had a jump trainer that could take on the best in the country. If Josh had runners at the major meetings at the big tracks such as Ascot, Sandown, Kempton, Aintree, Cheltenham and Newbury they were always respected.
At one stage he had more than 120 horses in his yard. Fontwell Park was his local course and over the years he trained just under 200 winners at the West Sussex track. Before becoming a trainer, he’d been a successful jockey and his first experience of jumping over fences had come when schooling horses at Fontwell Park.
He’d be the first to admit he was from the ‘old guard’ of jump trainers.
He would never rush a young horse. He’d prefer to give his charges a gentle introduction to racing and bring them along steadily to give them every opportunity for a lengthy and successful career.
He didn’t like summer jump racing, much preferring a winter afternoon in the wind and rain at the likes of Fontwell Park, Plumpton and Folkestone. Sunday racing was also slightly frowned upon.
After watching Josh’s career from a distance, I had the pleasure of meeting him when I moved to Fontwell Park as general manager in 2002. He always had time for a chat and was extremely affable.
In 2003, we arranged a race day party to mark the great man’s retirement from the training ranks.
It was at this event that I saw at first hand, Josh’s emotional side.
As racing journalist Jonathan Powell made a speech about the Findon maestro’s career, tears started trickling down Josh’s face. It made everyone love him a little bit more.
Last Thursday, Fontwell Park was the location chosen by the family for the reception following Josh’s memorial service at Chichester Cathedral, where more than 700 people were in attendance.
It was a tremendous honour to be a small part of the farewell to one of Britain’s most popular and successful racing professionals.
The term ‘legend’ is used much too freely these days. Josh really fitted the bill.