Stan Mellor: one of racing’s greats

In April this year a memorial service was held in Lambourn to celebrate the life of one of our greatest jump jockeys.

Born on April 10, 1937, the son of a Manchester timber merchant, Stan Mellor started his racing career in 1952 as a 15-year-old amateur at George Owen’s Cholmondeley Stables in Malpas, Cheshire. Owen supplied his first winner, Straight Border, in a Wolverhampton selling hurdle on January 19, 1954. Stan turned professional shortly after his 17th birthday and his third paid ride was a winner, Wirswall Prince at Ludlow on April 28, 1954.

He enjoyed his first big race victory over the Grand National course when Roy Whiston’s Fresh Winds landed the 1960 Topham Trophy. Two days later he finished second on Badanloch in the Grand National.

Among the best he rode was Stanhope Joel’s classy chestnut Frenchman’s Cove, on whom he won the 1962 Whitbread Gold Cup. Stan would have ridden him in the 1963 National had he not been seriously injured two days before the race. A field of 41 turned out for the inaugural running of the Schweppes Gold Trophy, a richly endowed handicap hurdle on Liverpool’s opening day card. Stan’s mount, Eastern Harvest, was lying handy when he grabbed at the second hurdle and fell, directly in the path of all the runners. Everything above the nose was okay but the cheekbones and jawbone were broken and he lost six teeth.

He’d been champion jockey for the last three seasons and was on course to be champion again, being 20 winners ahead of his nearest rival, but the Aintree fall put paid to that, enabling Josh Gifford to catch up and beat him by six.

One of racing’s greats: Stan Mellor

Earlier that season, in November 1962, Stan had ridden King’s Nephew to pip Mill House by half a length at Kempton. It was a masterpiece of riding.

He recalled: “Turning into the straight I was going really well and Mill House was striding along in front. I didn’t want to pull out because Willie (Robinson) would have seen me, so I’ve stuck on the rail and shouted to Josh (Gifford) who looked back, saw me and pulled out to let me go up his inner. Then I went directly in Mill House’s slipstream. I kept four lengths back off him so Willie thought there was no problem but as soon as he went to focus on the last fence, I produced King’s Nephew with his one bit of speed. We landed with the edge and kept it.”

It was a similar piece of guile that enabled Stan to achieve perhaps the most famous victory of his career, when Stalbridge Colonist beat Arkle half a length in the 1966 Hennessy Gold Cup. He maintains that Stalbridge Colonist was unlucky not to win the 1967 Cheltenham Gold Cup and blames himself for his narrow defeat by Woodland Venture.

On December 18, 1971, Stan Mellor became the first National Hunt jockey to ride 1,000 winners when a five-year-old grey gelding named Ouzo won the Christmas Spirit Novice Chase at Nottingham. Six months later he ended his riding career by winning on Arne Folly (his 1,035th) at Stratford on the penultimate day (June 2) of the 1971/72 season.

In addition to those already mentioned, the list of big race victories included Cheltenham’s Two Mile Champion Chase (Sandy Abbot, 1963), the Mackeson Gold Cup (Super Flash, 1964), Grand Sefton Chase (The Fossa, 1965), S.G.B. Chase (Vultrix, 1965), Mildmay Memorial Chase (Stalbridge Colonist, 1968), two King George VI Chases (Frenchman’s Cove, 1964 and Titus Oates, 1969) and two Great Yorkshire Chases (Chavara, 1961 and King’s Nephew, 1964).

Awarded the MBE for services to racing in 1972, Stan had been the first chairman of the Jockeys’ Association and also used to represent the jockeys on the Injured Jockeys’ Fund.

Training was a natural second career. Among his major successes were a brace of Triumph Hurdles with Pollardstown and Saxon Farm, and two Whitbread Gold Cups with Royal Mail and Lean Ar Aghaidh.

Both Royal Mail and Lean Ar Aghaidh were placed in the Grand National: Royal Mail finishing third behind Aldaniti and Spartan Missile in 1981, while Lean Ar Aghaidh occupied the same place behind Maori Venture in 1987, ridden by Guy Landau, who went on to become a Master of Foxhounds in the West Country.

Stan decided not to renew his trainer’s licence when it expired in February 2002. His last runner was Storm Tiger, at Aintree on 28 October 2001. He finished third, so Stan once more stood in the spot where he had greeted both Royal Mail and Lean Ar Aghaidh on their return to the unsaddling enclosure after their respective Grand Nationals.

It was a fitting place to end a training career.

He died at the age of 83 on the evening of Friday, July 31, 2020 after a long illness He had been in hospital for two weeks but had returned home earlier that week.

Stan Mellor’s biggest wins

1959: Liverpool Hurdle – Cluniac

1960: Topham Trophy – Fresh Winds

1960: Champion Novices’ Chase – Sandy Abbot

1961: Victory Chase – Sandy Abbot

1961: Great Yorkshire Chase – Chavara

1961: Mildmay Chase – Peacetown

1962: Coventry Chase – Frenchman’s Cove

1962: Longtail – National Hunt Handicap Chase

1962: Whitbread Gold Cup – Frenchman’s Cove

1963: Two-Mile Champion Chase – Sandy Abbot

1964: Great Yorkshire Chase – King’s Nephew

1964: Galway Plate – Ross Sea

1964: Mackeson Gold Cup – Super Flash

1964: King George VI Chase – Frenchman’s Cove

1965: Gloucestershire Hurdle – Red Tears

1965: Coronation Hurdle – Red Tears

1965: Mildmay Chase – Oedipe

1965: Champion Novice Hurdle (Punchestown) – Tristram

1965: Galway Plate – Ross Sea

1965: Grand Sefton Chase – The Fossa

1965: SGB Chase – Vultrix

1966: Downshire Hurdle – Red Tears

1966: Hennessy Gold Cup – Stalbridge Colonist

1967: Prix du Casino Municipal de Nice – Hully Gully

1967: Ackermann Skeaping Trophy Hurdle – Chorus

1968: Mildmay Memorial Chase – Stalbridge Colonist

1968: Spa (Stayers’) Hurdle – Park Ranger

1968: Scilly Isles Beginners’ Chase – Aurelius

1969: Gainsborough Chase – Stalbridge Colonist

1969: King George VI Chase – Tits Oates

1970: Coventry Pattern Chase – Titus Oates

1970: George Duller Hurdle – Vulmegan

1970: Welsh Champion Hurdle – Frozen Alive

1970: Champion Novice Hurdle (Punchestown) – Frozen Alive

1970: Prix des Drags – Herring Gull

1971: Thunder and Lightning Chase – The Dikler

1971: Coronation Hurdle – Barnard

1971: Champion Novice Hurdle (Punchestown) – Ouzo

Champion National Hunt jockey three times: 1959-60, 1960-61, 1961-62.

Most wins in a British season: 118 in 1960-61.

Last winner over jumps: Arne Folly, Stratford, June 2, 1972.

Last winner as a jockey: Rock Face on the Flat, Smurfit Old And Bold Stakes, Uttoxeter, September 19, 1991.

Total wins: 1,035 over jumps in Britain plus 9 in Ireland, 5 overseas, 5 on the Flat.

Big race successes as a trainer

1977: Alpenstock – National Hunt Chase

1979: Triumph Hurdle – Pollardstown

1980: Templegate Hurdle – Pollardstown

1980: Whitbread Gold Cup – Royal Mail

1080: Midlands Grand National – Pacify

1983: Triumph Hurdle – Saxon Farm

1985: Stewards Cup – Al Trui

1987: Whitbread Gold Cup – Lean Ar Aghaidh

1991: Stayers’ Hurdle – King’s Curate

Last winner as a trainer: Shepherds Rest, Folkestone, October 15, 2001.1981: Welsh Champion Hurdle – Pollardstown