Trainer Nicky Henderson led the tributes to “great character” Bobby McAlpine, who has died at the age of 89.
The owner-breeder had great success with horses such as Cormorant Wood, Precipice Wood, and River Ceiriog and was also a director at Aintree Racecourse and chairman of Chester and Bangor.
A great-grandson of Sir Robert McAlpine, who founded the family civil engineering business that he himself served for 44 years including seven as chairman, McAlpine’s love of racing dated back to his time as a steward at Wolverhampton in his 20s.
But it was a desire not to run at that track that earned him a shock win in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at Cheltenham with 40-1 shot River Ceiriog in 1986.
Henderson recalled: “I spent the whole of the Sunday morning trying to persuade him to run him in a maiden hurdle at Wolverhampton on the Friday, then we could run him at Aintree. I said, ‘Wouldn’t that be fun?’
“He said, ‘It would, but I’d rather run at Cheltenham on Tuesday in the Supreme’. Needless to say Mr. Bobby, as everybody used to call him, got his way.
“On the day, when I went to get the saddle from Steve Smith Eccles in the weighing room, Peter O’Sullevan was stood there studying his colours as the jockeys came out. He asked how to pronounce the horse’s name and I said, ‘Don’t worry, you won’t have to mention it!’ He won by 15 lengths—and Mr. Bobby backed it!
“His death is very sad news —he was one of the great characters of racing. He nearly ticked every box in life and most of it with a lot of amusement.”
Rosemary Lomax became the first woman to train a Royal Ascot winner when Precipice Wood carried McAlpine’s colours to success in the King George V Handicap in 1969 and the stayer returned to land the Gold Cup the following year.
Barry Hills trained top-class filly Cormorant Wood to take the Sun Chariot Stakes (G1), Dubai Champion Stakes (G1), and Benson & Hedges Gold Cup (G1) in the early 1980s.
McAlpine, whose two volumes of memoirs included tales of drinking with George Best and playing bridge with Lord Lucan, was chairman at Chester for many years and was honorary president at the time of his death.
Fellow former director Jack Ramsden said: “Lynda and I knew Bobby for over 30 years, he loved his racing and bred some top horses. It was our pleasure to train a few slower ones for him.
“It was through racing at Chester that we got to know Bobby and it was through the Chester connection that we and several others benefited over many years from Bobby and Angela’s wonderfully generous hospitality, particularly over the May meeting.
“Bobby also loved his golf and demonstrated a marked preference for winning over losing. We shall miss him.”
McAlpine’s second wife, Angela, predeceased him. They had a daughter, Emma. He also had two sons and a daughter—Euan, Christopher, and Jane—by his late first wife, also Jane.