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Josh Gifford (1941-2012)
I met Josh Gifford in August 2011 when he showed Dad and me round his Downs Stables in Findon, West Sussex. We saw the stable which his Grand National winner Aldaniti occupied, the tack room full of saddles & bridles, and the room where the jockey's silks are kept. Josh took us for a fascinating drive all round the gallops and schooling grounds where the horses are put through their paces each day. Downs House itself is full of paintings, photographs and memorabilia associated with horse racing.
Josh signed a photograph for me, along with my Champions poster on which he wrote, "A fairy story that could not happen, but did!" We also met Josh's wife Althea, his son Nick and his daughter Tina.
Joshua Thomas Gifford was born in Huntingdon in 1941. His parents ran a farm in nearby Great Stukeley. He had a younger brother, Macer, who would also become a professional National Hunt jockey, before motor neurone disease ended his life in 1984. Josh and his brother were encouraged to ride at an early age by their father, Tom Gifford, a keen horseman.
Josh Gifford as a young jockey in 1957
In 1952, eleven year old Josh was apprenticed to a trainer in Northants, andwith year,
him to join the legendary National Hunt trainer Capt. Ryan Price, at the Downs Stables in Findon, West Sussex.
Josh Gifford - jockey at Downs Stables
Josh instantly took to jump racing, and in his first season (1958-59) rode twelve winners. Within three seasons, and still aged only 21, Josh had progressed so much that he became National Hunt Champion jockey in the 1962-63 season, with 70 winners. He was NH Champion jockey again in 1963-64 (94 winners), 1966-67 (82 winners) and 1967-68
1967-68 (122 winners). Some of his notable victories included Forty Secrets in the 1962 Welsh National, Beaver II in the 1962 Triumph Hurdle, Border Jet in the 1967 Sun Alliance Chase and Charlie Worcester in the 1967 Mackeson Gold Cup.
Josh in action on Sire De La Dor
Josh Gifford rode in the Grand National a number of times butnev
Foinavon approaching the last fence in the 1967 Grand National,
with Josh Gifford on Honey End in hot pursuit
Josh Gifford on Honey End on their way to the
start of the 1967 Grand National
Josh Gifford weighs in for the
1967 Grand National
but never won it. The closest he came was in 1967 riding Honey End. Approaching the 23rd fence, a loose horse called Popham Down (ridden by Josh's brother Macer before it fell at the first), ran across the fence instead of jumping it. It caused a huge pile up which was avoided by just one horse, 100-1 'no hoper' Foinavon, who went on to win. Josh eventually got 15-2 favourite Honey End back into the race, but they eventually had to settle for second place, 15 lengths
That same year, Gifford became involved in controversial doping allegations surrounding Hill House, a horse that he rode to victory in the Schweppes Gold trophy at Newbury. Eventually, trainer, jockey and horse were all completely exonerated.
In September 1968, Josh Gifford rode a young horse at Cheltenham in its first race overhu
over hurdles. They came second but the horse - Red Rum - went on to become a Grand National legend! Later, as a trainer, Josh twice had the opportunity to buy Red Rum, and twice decided not to!
Josh's final ride was in the 1970 Grand National on board Assad. After finishing seventh, he surprisingly announced his retirement, aged 29, having ridden 642 winners over jumps. Josh's boss, Ryan Price, had just opened stables at his new home, Soldier's Field, in Findon,
Josh Gifford on Hill House
at Newbury in 1968
Findon, to concentrate on training flat horses, and he suggested that Josh took over training at the Downs Stables. Josh paid Price £29,000 for the stable and horses, and sent out his first winner Cheers Echo at Plumpton within days of getting his licence.
Captain Ryan Price's Downs Stables at Findon in 1958
Over the next 33 years, Josh Gifford trained 1,586 winners. His first really big successes were in 1978 when Approaching won the Hennessy Gold Cup, and Kybo (arguably
Bob Champion on Kybo at Ascot in 1980
(arguably the best horse he trained) won both the Ascot Hurdle and the Christmas Hurdle.
However, it was in the '80s and '90s that Josh was regarded as one of the best trainers around. Amazingly, it took him 17 years before he had the first of his ten Cheltenham Festival winners when Golden Minstrel won the Kim Muir Chase in 1988. Another memorable horse was Deep Sensation which won the Melling Chase at Aintree in 1993. Later that year Deep Sensation won Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham - on the same day that Josh trained his 100th winner at the course. "There are only three others who've done that so I was very proud," he said. Josh again trained the winner of the Melling Chase the following year with Katabatic. He has also had big handicap wins in the Whitbread
Giving a polo mint to Golden Minstrel
Whitbread Gold Cup (Topsham Boy in 1993) and the Mackeson Gold Cup (which he won two years running with Bradbury Star in 1993 & 1994).
(l-r) Katabatic, Bradbury Star, Deep Sensation
Josh Gifford leads in another winner!
In July 1979 Bob Champion, one of Britain's top jump jockey's, who rode many of Josh's horses
horses, was diagnosed with cancer, whilst his favourite horse, Aldaniti was severely injured in a race at Sandown. Champion's dream of riding the horse in the Grand National was the only thing that kept him going during several courses of painful chemotherapy. So it was that Josh Gifford, with the backing of Aldaniti's
Aldaniti's owner Nick Embiricos, set out to try and achieve the impossible and bring the horse back to fitness, just in case Bob Champion could beat the cancer that threatened his life.
Aldaniti at Findon in 1994
Nick Embiricos and Josh Gifford
Two years later the dream came true when Bob Champion rode Aldaniti to a famous emotional victory in the 1981 Grand National.
The story was made into a film Champions (1984) with actor Edward Woodward playing Josh Gifford, and Aldaniti
Aldaniti himself having a prominent role. The film is widely regarded as one of the best horse-racing films ever made. Josh recalls, "I remember going to the premier of the Champions film. We were all lined up to meet the Queen Mum and the chap said 'Josh Gifford M'am' and she said 'Oh don't be silly, we're old friends!' That was a real thrill."
John Hurt & Edward Woodward in Champions
Bob Champion on Aldaniti
The Downs Stable had previously featured as a location in Dead Cert (1974), the only big-screen version of a Dick Francis' novel. Horses from Josh's stable were used for the racing scenes, nevertheless he doesn't have a good
Josh Gifford in the film Dead Cert
Josh has signed this photo to me. It shows him with Aldaniti
The gallops and schooling grounds at Downs Stables
When Ryan Price gave up training in 1982,
1982, Josh Gifford also took over his stables at Soldiers Field. He later added a third stable, so that at its peak, the Downs Stables hadover
had over 120 horses in training. "You get very close to the horses
horses," he says. "You're living with them from 6 o'clock in the morning 'til 10 o'clock at night." Josh never achieved the 'Top Trainer' title although he was leading right up the the final race of the 1988 season, when Desert Orchid won, and giving his trainer, David Elsworth, the title.
Josh Gifford with his final winner
Skycab at Sandown in 2003
Josh retired in 2003, his last runner being Skycab, ridden tovic
Horses in training at Findon
to victory by Leighton Aspell at Sandown - a fitting end to fifty years in racing.
Josh Gifford married Althea Roger-Smith in 1969. Althea was a top show jumper who won the Queen Elizabeth Cup, was second in the Hickstead Derby, and represented Great Britain in Nations Cups. She was best known for winning many prestigious classes on her beautiful grey horse Havana Royale.
Nick Gifford and Royal Wedding
Tina Cook on Miners Frolic
Their son, Nick (b.1973) took over the running of the Downs Stables when Josh retired in 2003. He has around forty horses in training, including Royal Wedding which won at Fontwell on 29th April 2011, the day Prince William married Kate Middleton! Nick's stable jockey is Liam Treadwell who won the 2009 Grand National on Mon Mome.
With Althea, Nick, Josh & Vinnie The Pooh at the Downs Stables in Findon
Josh Gifford R.I.P.
Nick, Tina and Althea are in this photograph which I took of the Downs Stables on 31st August 2011
Josh was awarded the MBE in 1989, for services to horse racing.
The glass painting of Aldaniti on the gate to Downs House
The gateway from the stable yard to the rear of Downs House has, for many years, had two paintings on glass depicting two racehorses. For Josh Gifford's 60th birthday, Aldaniti's owners, Nick & Valda Embiricos, commissioned a third painting for the gate depicting their famous 1981 Grand National winner.
The brick & flintstone Downs Stables were built on Stable Lane, Findon, in 1854. The first trainer there was John Day, quickly followed by William Goater. Another early 'trainer' wasjoh
was John Porter (the John Porter Stakes, run at Newbury each year, is named after him). In 1899 the stables were bought by Irishman Bob Gore who won the 1912 Grand National with Jerry M (ridden by Lester Piggott's grandfather, Ernie). He also won the 1913 Grand National with Covercoat. After Gore died in 1941, Harry Davison trained there until Gore's widow sold Downs Stables to Captain Ryan Price in 1951. Josh Gifford then bought them in 1970, with his son Nick taking over the training there in 2003.
Link to the Downs Stables website
Be sure to visit Valerie Martin's superb website about Findon, with lots of information about the racing life of the village.
lengths behind the winner.
a good word to say about the film, this is despite him having had a small role in one scene!
Josh's daughter Kristina Cook (b.197
(b.1970), known as Tina, is an accomplished rider for Great Britain in the sport of Three-Day Eventing. She won both individual and team bronze medals with her horse Miners Frolic at the 2008 Bejing Olympics. Tina trains three-day eventing horses at her own yard in Findon.
I was deeply saddened to hear that Josh passed away on 9th February 2012 - Dad and I will never forget our fabulous visit to Downs Stables. Thanks for the great memories, Josh. R.I.P.
2 tributes read at Josh Gifford's memorial service at Chichester Cathedral on 1st March 2012:
and within the year, had his first race on Controller at Newmarket, weighing in at 4st 6lbs! Josh had a few race rides to gain experience before joining trainer Samar
Sam Armstrong's stables in Newmarket. Still only 14 years old, Josh rodehs
rode his first winner, Dorsal, at Birmingham racecourse
racecourse in 1956. By 1958, Josh had become a leading apprentice, having ridden in about 400 races with 55 winners, which included the November Handicap and the Chester Cup. Josh grew too big to be a flat jockey, and Armstrong arranged for himto