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Last Updated: Friday, 7 November, 2003, 16:21 GMT
Pitman's winning lines
By Frank Keogh

Jenny Pitman is looking forward to the next chapter of her remarkable life after tasting glory with horse racing and surviving a cancer battle.

Training career: 1975-99
Grand National wins: 2 (Corbiere 1983, Royal Athlete 1995)
Gold Cup wins: 2 (Burrough Hill Lad 1984, Garrison Savannah 1991)
OBE: New Year honours 1998

Pitman earned the nickname the 'First Lady of Racing' as she rose from stable girl to become the only woman to train winners of the Cheltenham Gold Cup and Grand National.

And she was awarded an OBE after battling cancer five years ago.

But rather than enjoying a well-earned retirement after stepping down from training in 1999, she has carved out a new career - as a writer.

Following her successful autobiography, Pitman turned to writing racing novels and clocked up sales totalling more than 250,000 with her first two books On the Edge and Double Deal.

Now Pitman is on edge herself as her third thriller, The Dilemma, is released in time for the Christmas rush.

"When I hear the book's coming out, I'm nervous," she told the BBC Sport website.

"It's a bit like having a runner in the Gold Cup, particularly when it's released at this time of year, with the publishing houses have all their Gold Cup runners running."

Pitman, whose latest tale centres on a newly-widowed female trainer facing a painful dilemma, is following in the hoofsteps of former jockey turned best-selling author, Dick Francis.

She studied his work, and other novelists such as Jilly Cooper, before her first venture.

It's such an isolated process
Pitman on writing novels

Now the former trainer is fully aware of the lonely process of writing a best-seller.

She starts by chatting with her husband David, then puts some thoughts onto tape, makes some notes in longhand before producing a rough outline.

"I've got one and a half storage boxes of this third book where I've made changes," she said.

It is a sharp contrast to her life as a trainer and the whirlwind of going racing all over the country.

"I get so involved in the writing, that I have to be alone, and that's the biggest difficulty for me because it's such an isolated process," added Pitman.

"Whereas with racing, my members of staff, if I was having a downer day, would pick me up and chase me along a bit."

National treasure

She says her career in racing provided "35 years of research" and has taken the name of her former head lad Murty McGrath for a character in her latest offering.

Pitman remains a perfectionist, and ordered the front cover of The Dilemma to be redone, when the horse pictured appeared to have a deformed neck and hind leg.

She is also a fierce defender of National Hunt racing, which has come under attack from animal welfare groups and even the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).

The OFT's look into whether jump racing's fixture list is anti-competitive has led to some suggestions the Grand National might be held away from Aintree in the future.

Pitman will not entertain such an idea: "The Grand National just cannot be reproduced anywhere other than Aintree.

"The fences there are unique. The whole track is unique. If they move it from Aintree, it's not the Grand National, so forget it."

Mark Pitman has followed his mother Jenny into training
Mark Pitman has followed his mother Jenny into training

She lists her first Aintree triumph with Corbiere as one of her best racing moments, but has equally fond memories of her son Mark's victory in the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Garrison Savannah.

He is now a trainer in his own right, and Mrs Pitman named Dempsey as one from his stable worth following this season after a difficult last year for the trainer. She also expects the exciting Monsignor to return from injury.

"Mark had a right kicking last year. The job can get very tough, and he had it all ends up. But I'm proud of the way he dealt with it ," said his mother.

It seems the Pitmans are born fighters, as clearly demonstrated by Jenny's battle to overcome cancer, which saw her win the first Helen Rollason Award at the 1999 BBC Sports Review of the Year show.

The honour was given in memory of the former TV sports presenter, with whom Pitman clearly identified.

"I was very, very honoured to receive that award, but it's one that I really wished I hadn't had to receive," she said.

"I used to talk to her - she was served a rough deal by her cancer. I've got very warm memories of her."

Although Pitman has survived cancer, she will shortly have to undergo her annual check-up: "It's once a year, and I don't look forward to it. At least when you come out, that's it."

And all being well, it will be time for yet another project.

  • The Dilemma is published by MacMillan on Friday 7 November.

  • NATIONAL HUNT 2003-04








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