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Tributes paid to ‘brilliant’ Newmarket horseman after lifetime in racing

Tributes have been paid to a popular member of Newmarket’s racing community who has died suddenly at his home at the age of 81.

David Wallis who lived at Racing Welfare’s Somerville House in Howard de Walden Way died on July 25 after a lifetime in racing.

He leaves his sons, Ben and grandchildren Oliver and Darcie, and Tom who has a third grandchild due in September.

David Wallis, who died on July 25. Picture submitted
David Wallis, who died on July 25. Picture submitted

Mr Wallis was born in Newbury, in Berkshire, where he learned to ride ponies almost as soon as he could walk, moving to Newmarket when he was 14 and was apprenticed to trainer George Colling.

In the 1960s he worked as travelling head lad for Ian Walker and subsequently Bernard Van Cutsem, after whose death he stayed on when assistant trainer Mick Ryan took over the yard.

In the late 1970s Mr Wallis became head lad to Luca Cumani at his Bedford House yard and then, in a change of direction, took a job at Beech House Stud which was then owned by the Vittadini family.

It was only a couple of years before racing called him back and he went to work for Geoff Huffer at La Grange stables before ending his racing career as head lad to John Gosden, who was then training at Stanley House stables in Bury Road.

A stint of about four years at the National Stud took Mr Wallis up to retirement.

His son Ben said racing had been everything to him.

“From 14 years old he was involved in racing and, even after retiring, if you wanted to find him he would either be in the pub watching the racing or at home doing the same, said Ben.

“The highlight of all the horses he looked after was Persian Heights, which won the St James’ Palace Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1988,” he added.

Ben said he had put the news of his father’s death on the stable staff reunited Facebook page, and received many messages from people who had known him.

“It was quite overwhelming. My dad was a very private man, so it has been nice to see those and have people talk to us about the time they had with him.

“I did not realise how many people knew him and that he helped during his life – one thing I have been told on the post a lot was what a brilliant horseman he was and how knowledgeable he was about horses in general.

“He was very chilled and extremely laid back, taking everything in his stride. He could have the weight of the world on his shoulders and you would never know it.

“As a dad, he taught me and my brother the right way to do things in life. I have taken so many life skills he taught us, using them as I am a dad myself now.”

A funeral service for Mr Wallis will be held at St Mary’s Church, Newmarket, on August 24, at noon followed by a private burial at Newmarket cemetery. Donations would be welcomed for Racing Welfare.