Racing turns out in force for funeral of Mercy Rimell
Seldom can St Denys Church in the small Worcestershire village of Severn Stoke have been so full as on Tuesday when the great and the good from many generations of jumping and Flat racing turned out for the funeral of Mercy Rimell, who died recently at the age of 98.
Cheltenham Festival-winning trainer Rimell took over the reins from her late husband and five-time champion trainer Fred in 1981 at nearby Kinnersley and proceeded to land the Champion Hurdle, Stayers' Hurdle and Arkle with the likes of Gaye Brief, Gaye Chance and Gala's Image.
Jumps trainers present included Nicky Henderson, Jonjo O'Neill and Kim Bailey, and there were a number of retired handlers, including Henrietta Knight, Jim Old, Graham Thorner, David Gandolfo and Simon Christian.
Flat counterparts included Barry Hills and his wife Penny, along with Michael Bell, who made the trip from Newmarket back to where it all started for him as pupil assistant trainer to Rimell, and he delivered a wonderfully articulate and amusing eulogy.
The weighing room was represented by Andrew Thornton, who partnered Rimell's final winner as an owner, Barton Gift, at Bangor last December, former rider turned livery yard owner Martin Jones – a regular visitor to Rimell right up to her death – and the BHA's senior inspector of racecourses Richard Linley, who rode Gala's Image during his days in the saddle.
Kirkland Tellwright attended on behalf of Haydock and Aintree, while former Cheltenham supremo Edward Gillespie was also among the congregation.
Ascot Gold Cup-winning trainer Bell recalled his days under the tutelage of Rimell, who he revealed always had to be addressed as 'Mrs Rimell' or 'Madam'.
His funny, more printable, anecdotes included the day when after Bell forgot to declare a horse to run, she responded with the words, 'You would forget your balls if they weren't attached to you'.
Bell also passed on that his former mentor had phoned him after Big Orange had landed the Gold Cup last month to congratulate him on the victory.
Rimell's grandson Mark, now a trainer in his own right, poignantly read The Hoofs Of The Horses by William Ogilvie, which was said to be one of grandmother's favourite poems.
Many names entered the training ranks via a grounding at the Kinnersley academy, including Bailey, who worked under Fred Rimell in the 1970s, during which time the stable sent out Rag Trade to win the Grand National, Royal Frolic to take the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Comedy Of Errors to win the Champion Hurdle for the second time.
Folklore has it Bailey was told by Rimell he would never succeed as a trainer as he was 'useless', but such utterances were commonplace when many staff left as she attempted to mask her disappointment they were moving on – and Bailey admits he learned a great deal in his time at the yard.
He certainly put the Kinnersley experience to good use as he has since emulated Rimell's late husband's treble by also winning the Aintree spectacular with Mr Frisk, the Gold Cup with Master Oats and Champion Hurdle with Alderbrook.
Many in attendance at the funeral were of the opinion that in her latter days Rimell mellowed, and one former trainer recalled her pleading with the handicapper to give Simon, who she owned and bred, a low weight in the 2007 Grand National.
When asked why, she replied: "I'm old and will not be around to see him much longer."