Mick & David Easterby: Racing Syndicates and Racehorse Ownership




Jon George and the Ayr Gold Cup 1977



Jon George and the Ayr Gold Cup 1977

Sun 26 Nov 2023Memory Lane


In 1977 I had a horse which I firmly believed has every prospect of lifting the Ayr Gold Cup. He was called Jon George, a grey colt by Comedy Star and he'd come to the yard to the yard as a yearling having been bought at Doncaster Sales for just short of £5,000. He was never going to be a two-year-old, and anything he did at two was a bonus. We started to get him ready towards the end of the spring and he had run four times at the back end of 1976. He won one of these outings, the October Maiden Stakes at Doncaster over five furlongs. Nobody fancied him that day and he surprised me when he came in first at 20-1. He was then put away for the 1977 season as I had plans for him at three.

Jon George wintered nicely and the grey colt that began his training for the 1977 season hardly resembled the backwards juvenile that had last been seen finishing fourth at Teesside Park on a muddy October afternoon. He was a thoroughly lazy horse who did nothing at home, he was a terrible worker. He just lobbed along the gallop and took no notice of his rider's instructions. If he didn't want to gallop then that was that, he did things as he pleased.

To see Jon George work on the gallops you'd be forgiven for thinking he was useless. He couldn't lay up with anything at all and he cared not that horses would gallop away for him and leave him toiling. Some horses love to impress the rest of the string with their prowess but not this one, he didn't have a care in the world.

It was a good thing for Jon George that he possessed bags of talent and most importantly that his trainer and owner knew it.

The only way Jon George could be trained was to run him, to race him, because he came to life when he saw a racecourse. He simply didn't enjoy plodding up and down the gallop at home, seemingly getting bored very quickly. He just wanted to race and racing brought out the best in him. I could have run that horse every day, he was that tough he could have taken it. So at home he never went out of a canter.

Jon George was stabled with a group of horses on a nearby farm at Dalby, a property that I had recently bought to accommodate the growing number of racehorses.

The handicapper hadn’t been impressed with Jon George in 1976 and he began the 1977 season with next to no weight. The key to Jon George was how he was ridden. When he started out he’d been asked to make the running and he hated it. However we were going to change the tactics for his three-year-old season and settle him off the pace and ask him to come late in his races.

The plan was to really go to war with Jon George in 1977 but it took a while for the wins to come. As he was such a lazy lump of a horse at home he was never going to win first time out and it took a few runs before he was fit as he did nothing on the gallops.

George Newsome, who owned Jon George in partnership with his wife, fell ill at the time and as a consequence he wanted to see the horse run as many times as he could.

I went to visit George at his home to discuss plans for his grey.

"I won't be here next year at this time", George said to me. "So just run him every time you get the chance."

Jon George was the perfect horse for George Newsome as running every week was exactly what was needed. George specifically asked me to run the horse in as many televised races as possible so that he could watch the horse as he wasn’t well enough to go to the racecourse.

So run him we did and Jon George simply thrived and his new style of racing seemed to really set him alight. He ran every week and as his fitness improved and his excess weight was trimmed off he began to clock up the victories and as a consequence he rocketed up the handicap enabling him to get into the televised handicaps on a Saturday afternoon. Jon George was on the television every week, and his wins included the Highflyer Stakes, the Vaux Breweries Silver Jubilee Sprint at Redcar and the Tote Sprint Trophy at Ascot.

In September Jon George lined up at the Portland Handicap at the Doncaster St Leger meeting. Willie Carson was in the saddle that day. I told Willie to drop him in behind as he was no good trying to run from the front, and the instructions were followed to a tee and Jon George came home in front.

Willie got off the horse and he looked exhausted. The only way to ride Jon George was to scrub away at him until you managed to persuade him to race. Once his mind was made up and he hit top gear he’d reel in the leaders and pick them off one by one. Willie had coaxed the lazy grey horse to do just this at Doncaster but he wouldn’t be in the plate for the horse’s biggest win which came the following month.

The plan was to head north and plunder another big purse, the Ayr Gold Cup. We travelled up to Scotland the day before the race. It's a long drive is Ayr and the roads at the time weren’t good, but I had every intention of making it worthwhile but it wasn’t going to be easy as the horse’s reward for winning the Portland was an eight pound penalty.

Friday 23rd of September was a beautiful sunny day on the west coast of Scotland. I had four runners, with Can't Help It and Major Go, who finished third, in the selling race and Whenby and Jon George in the Gold Cup.

Bruce Raymond rode Jon George that day, as Willie Carson was riding at Ascot. It was a race in which everything went to plan. Bruce settled Jon George just off the pace and hitting the front at the furlong post he defied the extra weight and after picking off the other runners one by one he came home in front.

The Ayr Gold Cup is a race every trainer in the north wants to win, and had Jon George won in any other year it would have been long remembered. However, overshadowed by a Classic winner earlier in the year the Portland – Ayr Gold Cup double was forgotten by many. But not by me. The sight of that grey colt flying home at Ayr will stay with me forever.

Sadly George Newsome died the following year. Jon George had run 17 times in 1977 and I was glad to have helped lift George’s spirits in his final years as week after week throughout the summer and Autumn he was able to watch his beloved horse on national television, and cheer home win after win.




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