Friday, 18 May 2012

David Victor Dick (1924-2001), jump jockey

David was a son of Alice Isabel Dick nee Ivall (1900-86), who was a daughter of Percy Ivall (1877-1945), who was descended from David Ivall (1795-1850), the successful coachmaker and brother of my ancestor Thomas Ivall (1781-1835). David's father was David Purvis Dick (1897-1989).

The following obituary was published in the Independent on 21 February 2001.

David Victor Dick, jump jockey: born Epsom, Surrey 8 March 1924; married 1969 Caroline Lockhart (one son, one daughter); died Ashampstead, Berkshire 15 February 2001 aged 76.

Renowned as the hardest of the hard men, Dave Dick was one of the top jump jockeys in post-war Britain and a serious contender for the greatest jump jockey never to have been champion. His swashbuckling style and colourful character ensured he stood out in the National Hunt scene in the 1950s, an era now revered as a golden age for steeplechase riders.

Despite a constant struggle with his weight - at six feet tall, he was distinctly on the large side for a jockey - Dick partnered numerous big-race winners. Among them was one of the most dramatic victories of all-time in the 1956 Grand National, where he rode ESB. The race is better known for its runner-up Devon Loch, who inexplicably collapsed when seemingly assured of victory 50 yards from the line under Dick Francis, riding for the Queen Mother. Newsreel footage of the race has become a staple of television coverage at Aintree; seldom is it mentioned that it is Dick who careers past the stricken Devon Loch.

Dick also won the Cheltenham Gold Cup - a more prestigious race to cognoscenti than the National - on Mont Tremblant as well as many other major contests, including several at jump racing's holy of holies, the National Hunt Festival.

The son of an Epsom-based trainer, Dick was born in 1924 and attended the same school as his lifelong friend Fred Winter, who was to become champion jockey and trainer, and a racing legend in the process.

Apprenticed to his father, also named Dave, Dick started as a Flat-race rider and secured his first winner at Brighton in September 1938. In 1941 he won the high-profile Lincolnshire Handicap on Gloaming. Burgeoning weight meant Flat racing was soon to be forgotten by the young rider in favour of jumping, where more mature horses are set to carry heavier burdens, but he remains the only rider to have won both halves of the so-called Spring Double, the Lincoln and the National.

Dick shot to prominence in the National Hunt world in 1951 when he was retained to ride the horses of the leading owner Dorothy Paget, who were trained by the great Fulke Walwyn and for whom he rode Mont Tremblant to Cheltenham success the following year. The victory was particularly noteworthy as the horse was technically a novice, in that he had never won over fences before the season in question, which made winning the Gold Cup an incredible feat.

Dick's weight problems - he spent countless hours attempting to shed unwanted pounds - meant he could never rely on the numerical firepower needed to become champion jockey. But he was famed as a big-race specialist, his reputation as the strongest finisher in the sport with a courageous spirit to match combining to produce an impressive strike-rate in the top events.

Besides the "crown jewels" of the National and Gold Cup, Dick won the Two-Mile Champion Chase twice, including victory in 1965 on Dunkirk, one of the greatest two-mile specialists in racing history. He was also associated with Pas Seul, another of the Sixties' leading steeplechasers, aboard whom he won the 1961 Whitbread Gold Cup. Dick's career total of 348 jumps winners featured an unusually high quota of the sport's bigger prizes and he remained at the top of the tree for 15 years until his retirement in 1966.

By that time, his exploits and sayings had also became the stuff of legend; his close friend and former colleague Terry Biddlecombe, himself three-times champion jockey, has described Dick as "the funniest man in racing". According to the Racing Post, a typical example of Dick's wit occurred at the start of one Grand National, always a fractious time for the jockeys involved. On this occasion, a man was sighted carrying a banner which read: "Repent or your sins will find you out." Dick is reported to have given the individual a long, hard look, turned to a fellow rider and said: "If that's the case, I won't get to the first fence!" Few of his colleagues, among whom he was deservedly popular, would have disagreed.

The weighing room was undoubtedly a lesser place for Dick's retirement, though he stayed in the sport in bloodstock roles, including managing the Wyld Court Stud for Peter de Savary and later acting as racing manager to a Kuwaiti sheikh.

In his later years he slipped out of the public eye, but the warmth of the tributes which have been carried in the racing press since his death testify to the enduring legacy of the man who truly deserved the title "the last of the cavaliers". 

The 1939 Register shows David (an apprentice jockey) living with his parents at Glanmire Farm, Epsom.

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