Legendary trainer Henrietta Knight said her ambition is to be back in the Cheltenham winner’s enclosure, as she returns to the job at the age of 76.
The National Hunt trainer, who saddled Best Mate to a historic three Gold Cup wins in a row, is reapplying for her licence, 11 years after she retired.
Mrs Knight told H&H the idea to return came “entirely out of my own head”.
“I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time,” she said, adding that she gave up when her husband, former champion jockey Terry Biddlecombe, was very ill. He died in 2014, and since then Mrs Knight has continued working from her Oxfordshire base.
“For the last seven to eight years, I’ve been very busy, with pre-training, teaching a lot of horses to jump better, or from scratch, and I’ve had a lot of trainers send me horses,” she said. “There’s been some lovely horses in the yard and I thought it would be nice to be training them again, and going to the races myself.”
Mrs Knight said her West Lockinge Farm is ready to go; all the facilities have been in use and are well maintained, so she has only three things to have in place before she can get fully back in action. One is the application process itself.
“Then there’s getting the horses,” she said. “A lot of the young horses here will stay with me but I’ve got to get owners. And there’s staffing, which is a problem throughout the horse world, so there’s a lot to take on. But I’m fortunate enough to have a very good secretary, Dawn Graham, who was with me before, and is very clued up.”
Mrs Knight added that Brendan Powell, a Grand National-winning jockey who has trained hundreds of winners, will be coming on board as her assistant.
“It’s very exciting but there’s a degree of butterflies too,” she said. “You’ve got to get the right horses; and I’m very fussy about the horses I like.
“My ambition is to get back into the winner’s enclosure at Cheltenham; probably not the Gold Cup, but any race there, that’s my aim. Things have changed immensely but I’d be very excited to do it again.”
Asked about Best Mate, the Gold Cup hero in 2002, 2003 and 2004 for Henrietta Knight and owner Jim Lewis, she said: “There may be some out there now, ready to do that, but there will never be a second Best Mate. But if I could get one even half as good as him, I’d be doing well.
“Some people think I’m mad but you have to take a few gambles and risks in life to have success. I probably took one when I started training in 1989, but life is a gamble, isn’t it?”
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