A lifetime spent in the company of many excellent horses
Mercy Rimell, who became the first woman to train a Champion Hurdle winner when Gaye Brief scored in 1983, has died at the age of 98.
She was a vital element in the success of her husband Fred during his many years as a trainer until his death in 1981.
She then became a successful trainer in her own right, and her good winners apart from Gaye Brief included Gaye Chance, Western Rose, Very Promising, Gala’s Image, Golden Friend, Celtic Chief and Three Counties.
Born Mercy Cockburn at Budbrooke, near Warwick, on June 27, 1919, she was an expert in the horse world even before her marriage at the age of 17. Under the influence of a dominating mother, she spent almost more of her formative years in the show-ring than she did at school, and due to severe asthma she actually went to school only between the ages of eight and 11. Later she had a governess.
Having competed on show ponies with conspicuous success, she won her first point-to-point at the age of 14 and just over three years later, in June 1937, married Fred Rimell, who became champion jump jockey three times.
In 1945, at Kinnersley in Worcestershire, he embarked on the training career that was to bring him success in almost every important race in the jumping calendar including a record four Grand Nationals with E.S.B, Nicolaus Silver, Gay Trip and Rag Trade, two Cheltenham Gold Cups with Woodland Venture and Royal Frolic, and two Champion Hurdles, both with Comedy Of Errors.
Although in her autobiography Reflections On Racing, Rimell stated unequivocally all the major decisions were her husband's, she was a big influence in guiding the fortunes of the stable.
The pair were a partnership in every way, with Rimell often as important as her husband in making decisions about buying and selling horses, choosing jockeys, deciding running plans and operating every aspect of the business.
On Fred Rimell’s death in July 1981 his widow took over the licence at Kinnersley, and her first winner in her own right was Tru Mar at Worcester the following month.
The highlight of her eight-year solo training career was Gaye Brief’s Champion Hurdle triumph in 1983. One of the best novices of 1981-82, Gaye Brief amply fulfilled his potential the following season, when he put up the performance of a true champion by trouncing his rivals in the Champion Hurdle despite slipping at the final flight. He scored by three lengths and seven from Boreen Prince and For Auction.
Later that year he won the Templegate Hurdle at Liverpool and the Fighting Fifth Hurdle, but injury prevented him from defending his title. Gaye Brief eventually acquired the reputation of being ungenuine, but he continued to win good races up until the age of 11, including two Ascot Hurdles and two Keith Prowse Long-Distance Hurdles, and was second to See You Then in the 1986 Champion Hurdle.
Rimell’s next-best horse was Gaye Brief’s brother Gaye Chance, whose victories included the Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial in 1982 and the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham in 1984. He was also a high-class chaser, being placed twice in the Hennessy Cognac Gold Cup.
She also trained Gala’s Image, winner of the Gerry Feilden Hurdle in 1985 and the 1987 Arkle, and Celtic Chief, who was placed in the Champion Hurdles of 1988 and 1989, and won the Gerry Feilden, Oteley, Aintree and HSS Hire Shop Hurdles.
In 1989, in her last season as a trainer, she won the Charterhouse Mercantile Chase at Cheltenham with Deep Moment and the Greenall Whitley Gold Cup at Haydock with Eton Rouge, but the result which gave her more pleasure than any other was that of Three Counties, owned and ridden by her granddaughter Katie, in the Foxhunter at Cheltenham; the partnership had won the Horse and Hound Cup in the two previous seasons. She enjoyed her best season numerically with 48 wins in 1982-83.
The Rimells’ daughter Scarlett continued the family tradition. She followed her mother’s example of top-class show-ring success, won the Newmarket Town Plate, and became co-champion lady point-to-point rider in 1963 before marrying amateur rider Robin Knipe. The Knipes started their Cobhall Court Stud near Hereford in 1973, and have established it as one of the leading National Hunt studs in the country.
Scarlett’s elder brother Guy, whose subsequently dissolved marriage to Mary Lyons produced Katie and Mark Rimell, briefly rode as an amateur, but eventually lost interest in racing and went to live in Marbella.
Full name Mercy Rimell (nee Cockburn)
Born Budbrooke, Warwickshire, June 27, 1919
Husband Fred Rimell (1913-81) married 1937
Children Guy Rimell, Scarlett Knipe
Assistant to Fred Rimell – champion jumps trainer 5 times; won Grand National 4 times (E.S.B. 1956, Nicolaus Silver 1961, Gay Trip 1970, Rag Trade 1976), Cheltenham Gold Cup twice (Woodland Venture 1967, Royal Frolic 1976), Champion Hurdle twice (Comedy Of Errors 1973, 1975); also trained Tokoroa, Honour Bound, Trelawny, Normandy, Chatham, Coral Diver, True Luck, Zarib, Connaught Ranger, Another Dolly
Stables as licence-holder The Racing Stables, Kinnersley, Severn Stoke, Hereford & Worcester 1981-89
First winner as licence-holder Tru Mar, Worcester, August 8, 1981
Champion Hurdle winner Gaye Brief (1983)
Stayers' Hurdle winner Gaye Chance (1984)
Other Cheltenham Festival winners Gala's Image (1987 Arkle Chase), Three Counties (1989 Foxhunter Chase)
Other big-race winners Gaye Chance (1982 Haydock Champion Hurdle Trial), Gaye Brief (1983 Templegate Hurdle, Fighting Fifth Hurdle, 1984 & 1985 Ascot Hurdle), Western Rose (1983 Crockfords Trophy), Migrator (1984 Welsh Novices' Championship Chase), Celtic Chief (1988 Aintree Hurdle), Deep Moment (1989 Charterhouse Mercantile Chase), Eton Rouge (1989 Greenall Whitley Gold Cup)
Total wins as licence-holder 278 (276 over jumps, 2 on Flat)
Died July 6, 2017, aged 98
Compiled by John Randall