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Bill Swainson, trainer of Schweppes hero True Lad, dies aged 86

Newbury: scene of True Lad's Schweppes triumph in 1977
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As Nicky Henderson, Dan Skelton and other top trainers prepare to battle for the Betfair Hurdle, racing is mourning a David who beat the Goliaths to land the big prize 44 years ago.

Bill Swainson, who died last week at the age of 86, trained just a handful of horses at Bredon in Gloucestershire. But in 1977 he took the ultra-competitive Newbury handicap, then known as the Schweppes, with True Lad.

The 14-1 shot, a horse he owned and bred himself, came from off the pace in a field of 27 to lead on the run-in under Tommy Stack and land the £12,700 first prize by a neck.

"He didn't have any more than seven or eight horses but he did a good job with them," recalled David Cartwright, who rode frequently for Swainson but missed the mount on True Lad as he was claimed for Derek Haydn Jones at Wolverhampton. "Winning the Schweppes put him in very good company."

Betfair Hurdle card and betting

True Lad won the Great Metropolitan Handicap on the Flat, as did Swainson's Lyford Cay who also went close in the Schweppes in 1972 and went on to finish third behind Bula in the Champion Hurdle.

"Lyford Cay was a little character that Bill bought off the Flat," Cartwright said. "You had to drop him out and not hit the front until very late.

"He was a three-miler and I was about 18th of 20 entering the straight at Newbury but he made up ground late on and we were in front a stride past the post.

"It’s very sad news," Cartwright added. "We had a lot of happy days together. He was a good guy to be with. He was a tough man but a real educated gent. He got his horses fit and it was a pleasure to ride them.

"I remember as plain as if it were yesterday walking into the paddock to ride Lyford Cay at Stratford one time and him saying, 'You can put the farm on this'.

"I won doing handsprings and I came back in and he'd had a fiver on it! So Bill wasn't a big punter. But he knew what he was doing."

Swainson, who served as a captain in the Worcestershire regiment, leaves a wife, Joy, and two daughters. 

He didn't have any more than seven or eight horses but he did a good job with them
E.W. Terms