'Racing is a sport and should be kept as a sport - it should be fun'
The former top trainer, 80, takes our weekly grilling
What advice would you give your ten-year-old self?
If I was ten, I'd want to do my best in life, but you're too young to know that then, aren't you?
Would you have rather won the Derby or been champion trainer?
The Derby, having been second four times and third and fourth. Rheingold was beaten a short head by Roberto and Hawaiian Sound was beaten a head by Shirley Heights, but you're never disappointed to finish second in the Derby. It's the premier race in the calendar and everyone wants to win the Derby – if you don't there's no point being in the game.
Do you miss training and would you like to have a go again now?
I do miss training – it's been my life – so I probably would have another go, but finding good staff these days would be very difficult and there are other bits and pieces that go with it, which I don't agree with a lot of, but I still go out every day to watch the string.
What's the best bet you've ever had?
That's a private matter.
If you could have played any other sport professionally, which would it be and why?
I was always mad on cricket when I was young, but I don't think I was good enough. I was very keen and always followed it. It's a good sport with nice people.
What do you think racing does best?
I don't know, not a lot really, and the day they do away with amateur stewards will be sad day for racing generally. They've done a very good job over the years and there have been very few complaints. Whoever does the job, there are going to be mistakes.
Other than better prize-money, what is the one thing you would change about racing?
Less bureaucracy – they could make a lot of it simpler. It's a sport and should be kept as a sport, and should be fun, entertaining.
What is your earliest racing memory?
I remember a man asking me at Cheltenham the year before last when I first went there and my answer was during the last world war. It was when Frenchie Nicholson and Fred Rimell were fighting out the jockeys' championship. There was reduced racing then and they were on 40-odd winners each because a lot of meetings were off. I was taken by my father – we didn't live far from Cheltenham – and that was the first time I went racing, my first vivid memory.
Which country would you have most liked to race in that you didn't?
I'm not sure, but my favourite to race in was France; I've always liked French racing and won a lot of good races there.
Frankel or Dancing Brave?
Frankel. He was an exceptional horse. They were different horses in terms of distance and I know Dancing Brave did win a Craven, but Frankel could've won a July Cup and equally a Champion Stakes up to a mile and a quarter.
Who is the best horse you have trained and why?
Rheingold. He beat Allez France in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in 1973 and you should look back and see what she achieved that year and the next year when she won the Arc. That day at Longchamp I think Rheingold was unbeatable. He was just very good. He also won a Dante, two Grand Prix de Saint-Clouds, a Prix Ganay, Hardwicke, John Porter. He was top-class and the highest-rated I've trained.
Which of your big-race wins gave you the most pleasure?
I've had many, so it's hard to say, but Further Flight gave me a lot of pleasure. He was the horse of a lifetime because he was there so long; in Flat racing they might be around only for a couple of years.
Do you still have any ambitions in racing?
I've got ambitions for [son] Charles to succeed and I'm very competitive. I'd like to own a good horse and have shares in a few now.
And outside of racing?
Not really, no.
What is your worst habit?
Probably smoking, which nearly killed me, but I've stopped now.
If you could meet one person, past or present, who would it be?
Robert Sangster, whom I've trained a lot of winners for.
What has been your most embarrassing moment?
I couldn't remember, wouldn't know. There's not much I'm really embarrassed about.
What is your most treasured possession?
Penny, my wife. We've been married 40 years, and also my sons and grandchildren.
How do you relax away from racing?
I don't really – I'm not a very relaxed person – but maybe with a good bottle of wine or two.
Who has been the greatest influence on your career?
Fred Rimell, George Colling and a certain gentleman called Common Sense. Common sense is not very common and is seldom used, but pretty important.
What is the strangest/funniest thing you've seen on a racecourse?
The worst thing was a horse with a blindfold on who got loose at Doncaster once; he galloped through everything.
Who do you most admire from jump racing?
Bar the obvious, there have been many great jockeys over the years who can be admired – too many to mention.
When did you first know you’d become a trainer?
When I was in Newmarket in the 1960s.
What's your biggest fear?
Haven't got one.
Do you have a nickname?
I think I've been called a lot of names in the past, but I'm commonly known as Mr Grumpy or Mr Combustible.
The media – friend or foe?
I've always got on very well with the press, but probably not so much now because they write a lot of rubbish! But I've always helped anyone I can and always will.
Who would be your four ideal dinner party guests?
I've got too many, far too many I like having for lunch. We have Sunday lunches with a lot of our friends and I enjoy having them, but I could give you a list of a few I wouldn't like over!
Who's your biggest fancy for next week?
I'm looking forward to a filly called Arthenia running. I own a quarter of her and she could go to Newbury next week.