The fascinating career of Newmarket horse trainer Cliff Lines forever linked with Shergar
Cliff Lines career in racing may forever be defined by one horse, Shergar, but his 70 years in the sport is far more than just a one-horse story.
And in her biography of the former Newmarket work rider and trainer, Reading Between the Lines, former racing secretary Amanda Tanner tells the fascinating story of how his career began when at 14 he joined trainer Noel Murless at Beckhampton, one of 22 apprentices who had signed on for an initial five years. When he told the head lad he hailed from London, he instantly became known as Cockney, although he was actually born in Edinburgh with his family later settling in Feltham.
Three years later he moved with the Guv’nor to Newmarket and rode many of the best horses Murless trained in what was to be a golden era for his Warren Place stable.
Cliff was soon familiar with some of the biggest names in racing at the time and it was during his first stint with Murless he was reminded that even those at the very top of the sport were not immune to its dangers.
He recalls how he led up Landau, a black colt owned by the Queen, when he finished third in the Eclipse Stakes and who turned out to be the last horse Sir Gordon Richards ever rode in a race because, moments later, Cliff witnessed the horrific accident which led to his retirement when a two-year-old filly, Abergeldie, also owned by the Queen, and who Sir Gordon was riding in the next race, reared over landing on top of him, crushing the Derby-winning jockey’s pelvis.
Cliff, now 87, had over 100 rides for Murless but as his dreams of making a career as a jockey faded he moved across Newmarket to work for Dick Hern, then training for Major Lionel Holliday at La Grange Stables. And it was there he looked after Hethersett who won the 1962 St Leger and after whom Cliff named his Exning home.
In 1966 he returned to Warren Place and in 1975 was reluctantly involved in the stable lads’ strike which at the Newmarket Guineas meeting saw around 200 lads stage a sit-down at the Rowley Mile as well as disrupting the start of the 2,000 Guineas.
Cliff returned to work before the strike ended, getting his job back with Murless. Many of the other strikers weren’t so lucky with more than 70 sacked by trainers on their return to work.
The following year Cliff started riding a two-year-old colt called J O Tobin who had arrived at Warren Place from the United States where he had been broken in. He became the season’s top juvenile but when Murless announced he would be retiring at the end of the year, the colt’s owners decided to take him back across the Atlantic.
Cliff, who had already accepted a job as assistant head lad with trainer Michael Stoute, was asked by the horse’s owner to travel with him back to America, and Stoute allowed him to go.
Out in California Cliff met George Best, who was then playing football in Los Angeles, and among Cliff’s collection of photographs one of his son Richard, which unsurprisingly is featured in the book.
Cliff returned to Newmarket and Michael Stoute in 1978 and it was there he was associated with a host of good horses including Marwell, Shareef Dancer, Sonic Lady, Rock Hopper, Colorspin and, of course, Shergar who, in the book, he recalls being lovely in every way,
“He had no vices and he enjoyed his work,” said Cliff. “You never had to ask him to do anything, you just sat on him and he did it.”
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A percentage of the price of Reading Between the Lines, is going to the Newmarket Pony Academy in recognition of the work its does providing the chance for youngsters who would not otherwise be able to associate with ponies, learn to ride and care for them.