The long, patient haul of jump racing seemed to play to his strengths
The race is not always to the swift, if Ecclesiastes is any kind of judge, and if that pearl of scriptural wisdom was ever in need of living embodiment, it surely found it in Malcolm Jefferson.
Last season, at the age of 70, with a wealth of experience, the trials and tribulations of a racing life behind him, he racked up his best total, reaching the heights of 40 winners.
It wasn't a figure that would trouble the big battalions of the modern era, but for Jefferson, operating with a stable strength in the mid-40s, it was proof positive that if you stick around and do your job the way it should be done, you'll do just fine.
"It's natural for any trainer," he once said, "when you're having a bad spell, you're wondering when it's going to stop, and when you're having a good spell, you're wondering when it's going to go wrong." But this was far from being a message laden with doom and gloom. Rather it was a willing acceptance of the lot of the racing professional, about which he knew more than most.
After 35 years with a licence and plenty more behind the scenes with the great Gordon Richards, he had seen pretty much all there was to see. He'd known good horses along the way and discovered that occasionally the race did go to the swift – not least to his own Dato Star – but when all was said and done, he was a family man with a hard-earned reputation that was worth protecting.
Owners came his way and mostly never left. "I've trained for some lovely people," was his view. "I like people to send me a horse and get on with it." And get on with it he did, from the day this Penrith-born farmhand joined local hero Richards, ultimately spending 13 seasons as travelling head lad at Greystoke in the era of Jonjo O'Neill, Ron Barry, Titus Oates, Playlord, Grand National winner Lucius and a fledgling Sea Pigeon.
While there he learned a trade, acquired a world view and found a wife, Sue, to whom he remained married for more than 40 years. When the time came to leave Greystoke he bought Newstead Cottage Stables in Norton, North Yorkshire, and set about adding to the single-figure tally of boxes, installing functional plumbing and generally bringing it up to the standard that would be required to sustain a man through a long and successful career.
The successes weren't always large and the large ones came at irregular intervals, but they were all the more enjoyable for that. When he had his first winner, with Mark Edelson in a Perth bumper in September 1981, his first year as a trainer, he may have thought his first Cheltenham winner would take rather less than 13 years to arrive, courtesy of Tindari in the 1994 Gold Card Hurdle Final; when Dato Star landed the Festival Bumper of 1995, it's unlikely he felt the game had suddenly become easy, but he may have hoped not to wait until 2012 for Cape Tribulation's Pertemps Final success. Not to worry, Attaglance's Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle triumph followed just a day later.
Jefferson was rooted in the northern jumping scene, but he wasn't shy about having a Flat winner. Dato Star himself scored on the level at Ayr, joining a roll call that included the trainer's inaugural Flat winner Dick ‘E' Bear (August 1982 at Haydock) and popular handicappers such as High Debate, Tancred Sand and Clarinch Claymore.
It was for his jumpers that he was best known, however. The long, patient haul of jump racing seemed to play to his strengths, as he showed when steering the likes of Tullymurry Toff, Go-Informal and Roman Ark to decent prizes over his several decades.
He may well have appreciated the irony that what was to prove the end of his career saw him enjoy a rich vein of form and an influx of classy horses with bright futures. He forged a fruitful alliance with jockey Brian Hughes, who seemed to bring the best out of progressive youngsters such as Double W's and Cloudy Dream.
There were others, from Oscar Rock and Urban Hymn to the aptly named Waiting Patiently. "You always want to get the first run into them and hope it's onwards and upwards," said the grounded optimist after the five-year-old's winning chase debut under Hughes in November 2016.
It was a phrase that summed him up as well as any. There were onward and upward times throughout his 50 years in racing, but Jefferson knew full well that he needed fortune on his side.
"Time and chance happens to them all," Ecclesiastes continues, reflecting on the long-term fate of everybody, even those who don't train racehorses for a living. Jefferson delivered a Cumbrian trainer's equivalent of the saying as he approached the Gold Cup one more time with Cape Tribulation in 2013.
"I've been in racing a long, long time and there's been plenty of disappointments," he said. "It's all right having the horses but there's a lot of things have to go right on the day. You want your own luck and a little bit of somebody else's as well."
Racing, for its part, was lucky to enjoy a man like Malcolm Jefferson for as long as it did.