Gold Cup-winning owner Alan Potts dies aged 80
Jessica Harrington has led the tributes to Alan Potts after it emerged on Tuesday that the Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning owner had died at the age of 80 after suffering a heart attack on Sunday.
Potts and Harrington combined to scale the ultimate peak in March when the Yorkshireman's pride and joy Sizing John stormed to Timico Gold Cup glory under Robbie Power.
One of the leading owners in Ireland and Britain, Potts died less than three months after his wife Ann lost a long battle with illness.
"It's very sad," Harrington said. "I talked to Alan last week, he was all booked to go to Cheltenham this weekend.
"I didn't get his horses until September of last year and they didn't run until Christmas. What an unbelievable time we had together – it was fantastic.
"The Gold Cup was something he had always dreamed of winning. When I said after the Kinloch Brae I thought we'd go for the Irish Gold Cup, he said, 'Let's try to win a Gold Cup.' No horse had ever won the Leopardstown, Cheltenham and Punchestown Gold Cups, and Alan and Ann were there for the latter two.
"He was a very strong character, a tough businessman, he came from virtually nothing to make millions and you don't get to that being a pussycat. He's a great loss to everyone."
Harrington also trained Supasundae to win the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival for Potts, while Fox Norton, Sizing Codelco, Finian's Oscar and Pingshou won at the Grand National meeting for Colin Tizzard.
Power, who became Potts's first-choice rider following his Cheltenham exploits, echoed Harrington's sentiments. "It's a sad day for racing. We were very lucky from the start and some of my best days were in his colours," he said.
"I knew the Gold Cup was the race he really wanted to win, it was his lifetime ambition, so I was delighted Jessie and I delivered it. It was great that he and Ann were there to witness it.
"He invested a lot of money, and thankfully over the past six months he got what he put into the game."
Bryan Cooper, recently appointed as Potts's retained rider in Britain, said: "Alan was full of praise for me from day one, filling me with confidence that we would have a successful partnership that he was looking forward to.
"He came across to me as a guy who liked winning but I remember at Chepstow one day he apologised after the first weekend we had together that we had only one winner that weekend.
"When you lose big owners like that, it's a big loss. Hopefully the horses he has will continue to be successful."
The Potts team originally enjoyed great success with the Henry de Bromhead-trained Sizing Europe, who landed the 2011 Queen Mother Champion Chase, having won the previous year's Arkle Trophy and the 2008 Irish Champion Hurdle. Last autumn Potts removed his horses from De Bromhead, with Harrington and Tizzard the main beneficiaries.
An immensely successful businessman, Potts invented a machine that sized rock as it was mined in 1978, revolutionising the industry. It also provided the inspiration for the naming of many of his horses.
He began working in the mines when he was 16, when his father was head of the union in his area. By 22 he was running a mine and at 40 he set up his own company, MMD.
A passionate jump racing man, Potts had recently invested huge sums in the best stock, often out of Irish point-to-point fields.
Finian’s Oscar cost £250,000 just over a year ago, while Potts set a record in February when paying £480,000 for another Irish point-to-point winner in Flemenshill, who subsequently suffered a fatal injury.
Jim Dreaper, who trains close to where Potts had his Irish base in Skerries, was another who enjoyed a fruitful association with the owner.
"He was a great help to us, a great sporting man," Dreaper said.
"I got to know him after an ordinary beginners' chase in Fairyhouse. It was a very tight photo and we were waiting for a result. After we won the race, he came over and in a very strong Yorkshire accent he said: 'If you're going to keep beating us I've got to send you a horse.'
"He bought lots of store horses but in recent years, getting on, he and Ann decided to buy the proven article and hope that it would work out. He put a lot into it."
It is unclear what plans are in place for the Potts horses now, with Finian’s Oscar and Fox Norton both due to run at Cheltenham at the weekend.
HIS RACING LIFE
Full name Alan Potts
Born April 9, 1937
First Graded winner Sizing Europe (2007 Greatwood Hurdle)
Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John (2017)
Queen Mother Champion Chase winner Sizing Europe (2011)
Irish Gold Cup winner (Leopardstown) Sizing John (2017)
Punchestown Gold Cup winner Sizing John (2017)
Punchestown Champion Chase winners Sizing Europe (2012, 2014), Fox Norton (2017)
Irish Champion Hurdle winner (Leopardstown) Sizing Europe (2008)
Other Cheltenham Festival winners Sizing Europe (2010 Arkle Chase), Sizing Australia (2011 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase), Supasundae (2017 Coral Cup)
Other Grade 1 winners Sizing Europe (2009 Bord na Mona with Nature Novice Chase, 2011 Tingle Creek Chase, 2012 Paddy Power Dial-a-Bet Chase), Sizing John (2014 Future Champions Novice Hurdle), Sizing Granite (2015 Maghull Novices' Chase), Finian's Oscar (2017 Tolworth Novices' Hurdle, Mersey Novices' Hurdle), Pingshou (2017 Top Novices' Hurdle), Fox Norton (2017 Melling Chase)
Other big-handicap winners Goonyella (2015 Midlands Grand National), Shanahan's Turn (2015 Galway Plate), Sizing Granite (2017 Guinness Handicap Chase)
Highest-rated horses (Racing Post Ratings) Sizing Europe (176), Sizing John (174), Fox Norton (174)
Richest win 327,462 (Sizing John, 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup)
Compiled by John Randall