'Great man' Gifford was simply 'best'
JOSH Gifford, one of racing's best-known and most loved figures, died in the early hours of yesterday morning at the age of 70.
Gifford was intrinsically linked to the Grand National after the exploits of Aldaniti and Bob Champion in 1981.
Aldaniti was an incredibly hard horse to keep sound and Champion had only recently recovered from cancer, but the pair powered to victory and their exploits were immortalised in the film 'Champions'.
Gifford had been treated in hospital for a severe case of septicaemia and had only recently returned home.
His son, Nick, who had taken over as his father's successor at Findon, in West Sussex, said: "I'm afraid he passed away in the early hours.
"He'd been back home for about three weeks, but he took a turn for the worse yesterday evening.
"By the early hours, he was in a really bad way and in the end it was a heart attack."
Champion said he was indebted to his former boss, labelling him "a great man".
"He was a great jockey, a great trainer and a great man," said Champion.
"He was so loyal to his jockeys."
In the film, Champion was played by the actor John Hurt, and the theme tune is used as part of the BBC's Grand National coverage.
Champion and Aldaniti were awarded the BBC's Sports Personality Team of the Year title for their exploits in 1981.
But Gifford was far more than just a one-horse man and, before he turned his hand to training, he was one of the best jockeys of his era, and was crowned champion on four occasions.
He had four Cheltenham Festival successes in the saddle and finished second in the 1967 Grand National on Honey End behind the legendary 100-1 winner Foinavon.
Gifford had his first ride as a 12-year-old and his first winner came two years later in 1956 on Trentham Boy on the Flat.
His first winner over jumps was at Wincanton in 1959.
He retired from the saddle before he turned 30 to start a training career that saw him win most of the major races on the calendar, although his biggest regret was that he was never champion trainer.
It looked on the cards in 1988 before the victory of Desert Orchid in the Whitbread Gold Cup saw David Elsworth overtake him on the final day of the season.
Arguably, Gifford's best horse was Kybo, who won the 1978 Christmas Hurdle, but injury prevented him from reaching his full potential.
Horses such as Queen Mother winner Deep Sensation, Bradbury Star, who won the Mackeson Gold Cup two years running, and Katabatic were among the best he worked with.
In all, he trained 1,587 winners before he handed over his licence to his son in 2003. His daughter, Tina, was a champion showjumper.
Richard Rowe took over from Champion as stable jockey, enjoying the best days of his career with Gifford.
"It's very sad news, I only went to see him last week. It was meant to be a brief visit but it lasted three and a half hours," said Rowe. "I was very grateful I had the chance to see him before he passed away. His health was back and forth a bit. He'd have a blood transfusion and have a good spell but then the infection would return.
"My time there was the best for both of our careers, he was a great man to work for. The reason my dad was so keen for me to join Josh was that he'd been a great jockey and he said there'd be no-one better to learn off -- he was right.
"And so it's been with my training. I often think 'what would Josh do now' and try to copy him. I couldn't have wished for a better teacher."
Declan Murphy rode such classy performers as Deep Sensation and Bradbury Star when he was Gifford's stable jockey in the early 1990s.
"He was such a wonderful man to ride for," Murphy said. "It was a great honour for me to ride for someone like Josh because he had experienced what few people have. He had experienced riding at the highest level. He trained at the highest level and trained great horses.
"To ride for somebody like that, who had such an understanding of the game, made my job a lot easier."
Paying his tribute, champion jockey Tony McCoy tweeted: "Very sad to hear that Josh Gifford, trainer and former champion jockey, passed away this morning. A great man. My thoughts are with his family. RIP."