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Tuesday, March 16, 1999 Published at 17:50 GMT


The first lady of horse racing

Corbiere (right) was Pitman's first National winner

Jenny Pitman's decision to retire from horse racing at the end of the season will leave a huge void in the sport.

John Inverdale describes how Jenny Pitman announced her retirement
The 52-year-old, who won two Grand Nationals and two Cheltenham Gold Cups during her career, decided to call it a day with the knowledge that her legendary Weathercock House stables will be run by her son Mark.

"Mrs P" as she is affectionately known, began her racing education at 15, as a stable lass for trainer Chris Taylor.

[ image: Mark Pitman will now take over Weathercock House]
Mark Pitman will now take over Weathercock House
It was shortly after that she met and married leading jump jockey Richard Pitman.

During her marriage, her involvement with the sport grew, as she began to prepare point-to-pointers and hunter chasers, and when the couple divorced, she decided to set up as a professional trainer at Weathercock House in Lambourn.

Within a short time, she was enjoying great success, culminating with Bueche Giorod lifting the Massey Ferguson Gold Cup in 1980.


Although famed for her tough reputation and sometimes abrasive attitude towards the media, Pitman suffered from the initial pressures of working in the top flight and gave consideration to leaving the business completely.

Legendary trainer Fred Winter wisely persuaded her otherwise and within years she was a household name due to her exploits at Aintree.

[ image: Jenny Pitman and champion jockey Tony McCoy]
Jenny Pitman and champion jockey Tony McCoy
She trained Corbiere to a memorable Grand National win in 1983 and then achieved the same feat two years later with Royal Athlete.

She was denied a third victory in 1993 with Esha Ness when the race was voided because of two false starts.

During the same period she won the Welsh version at Chepstow three times (sending out three of the first four home in 1986) and the Scottish National at Ayr once.

And she became only the second trainer to complete a full set when Mudahim lifted the Irish Grand National at Fairyhouse in 1997.


Her decision to announce her retirement at Cheltenham is all the more poignant in light of the fact that she also became the first woman to land the Gold Cup in 1984 with the victory of Burrough Hill Lad - possibly the best horse she ever trained.

With all her achievements came a fair degree of controversy.

If Pitman had not earned a reputation for edginess, she may have avoided some of the darker episodes of her career - but the "first lady of horse racing" has not regrets.
[ image: Jamie Osbourne: Hooked on Pitman]
Jamie Osbourne: Hooked on Pitman

"There is so much worry and pressure leading up to a big race. It's a nerve-wracking business but if you really care for something that you do that's how much it takes out of you."

Jamie Osborne can testify to Pitman's no-nonsense style when he took a punch from her as retribution for tightening up one of her horses at Ayr one year.

"What can I say about her? She has got a great left hook." said the jockey.


She survived a traumatic 1992 when several owners, including Bill and Shirley Robbins and Mel Oberstein, removed their horses from the yard.

Jenny Pitman and her son Mark talk to BBC Radio 5 Live about past memories and the future
And she was also accused of running Golden Freeze as a "stalking horse" in the Gold Cup, a tactic designed to stop hot favourite Carvill's Hill.

But she and jockey Michael Bowlby were cleared of any malpractice at a Jockey Club inquiry.

Her ability to fight back during those difficult days marked her out as one of the very special trainers of her era and it came as no surprise when she was awarded the OBE in 1998 for services to racing.

But despite all the highs and lows, Pitman's recent struggle with cancer, which she overcame, may well have been her biggest victory.

And after nearly a quarter of a century of training horses, she can look forward to spending her retirement in good health and with great memories.

"When you look back through my life, starting off as a stable girl working weekends in a small yard to training a Grand National winner, it's been a fairy tale really."

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