Rimell dynasty is part of the Croome DNA
The name Rimell will always be associated with the Croome country, although there is no Rimell connection with the famous training yard at Kinnersley now. Four generations of Rimells have made this part of Worcestershire synonymous with steeplechasing over a period of 100 years.
Of course, the best known occupant of Kinnersley was Fred Rimell (1913-81). Fred is one of a select pair to have been both Champion Jockey and Champion Trainer, the other being Fred Winter. Known as Mr Grand National for his unimpeachable record of four victories in the world's greatest steeplechase, Fred grew up destined to be involved with horses.
His father Tom also trained at Kinnersley, and enjoyed his time in the spotlight when he trained Forbra to win the National in 1932 under Tim Hamey. Older racegoers at Cheltenham will recall that Tim never missed a meeting until he became too frail to attend them from his home in Bishop's Cleeve. He died in 1989, aged 84. At the time of Forbra's victory, Fred was considered too junior to take the ride.
Tom was no slouch at training horses either. With 15 Festival winners under his belt at a time when the Festival was largely a two day affair, never mind four, with no more than 12 races, he was one of the senior trainers of his generation. And he believed in starting Fred early. They boy had already ridden a winner under Rules at the age of twelve and was whipper-in for the Croome Foxhounds.
Fred grew up in a generation rich in riding talent, competing against the likes of Fulke Walwyn, Gerry Wilson and Frenchie Nicholson. But whilst he's best known for this training of National Hunt horses, he rode 34 winners on the Flat before weight pushed him Jumping. He was 25 when he won his first Jockeys' Championship in the 1938-9 season, and followed this with three further championships in the War era, sharing the title with Frenchie Nicholson when racing began again in the 1944-45 season.
Capitalizing on that success at the end of the war, and on his father's retirement, Fred took on the training licence at Kinnersley in 1945, whence it became one of the foremost National Hunt training yards in the UK. Over the next 40 years, a stream of top class talent was sent forth to win virtually every big race in the National Hunt calendar, and through this, Fred became Champion Trainer no less than five times, being the first trainer to win more than £1m on the final occasion in 1975/6.
It took 9 years from 1945 to achieve his first National; Fortuitous perhaps, as E.S.B. was the beneficiary of the famous splits performed by the Queen Mother's Devon Loch when leading unchallenged in 1956. Five years later, Nicolaus Silver proved this was no fluke in the '61 renewal. In 1970 Gay Trip brought the silverware back to Kinnersley again, whilst the final of the quartet, Rag Trade, lowered the colours of Red Rum in 1976.
But it wasn't just the Aintree version that Fred coveted. Creeola (1957), Glenn (1968), French Excuse (1970), and Rag Trade (1976) brought the Welsh version back to Worcestershire, whilst The Fossa under bottom weight of 9st 12 secured the Scottish version in 1967.
Among Cheltenham's big four marquee events, only the Stayers Hurdle escaped him. Former pointer Woodland Venture (1967) and Royal Frolic (1976), alongside Champion hurdlers in Comedy of Errors (1973, 1975), and Another Dolly (1980) in the Champion Chase, all put him high in the rankings of all time Festival greats, with 27 wins. He remains in seventh place in that list of greats 40 years after his death.
The Royal Frolic story is worth the re-telling. Royal Frolic was owned by octogenarian Sir Edward Hanmer, who is remembered through a race at Haydock Park before Christmas. in January 1976, Royal Frolic won the now Peter Marsh Steeplechase at Haydock. At this juncture, a Gold Cup follow up hadn't been considered for the seven year old promising chaser, but Fred rang the elderly and rather ill owner to ask for permission to enter him in the Gold Cup 8 weeks hence. "Don't you think it's a year too soon?" replied Sir Edward., to which Fred replied as diplomatically as he could, "Don't you think we're running out of time, Sir?" The nuance of the exchange wasn't lost on the owner, who chuckled and agreed. Just as well, as Sir Edward died shortly after the race. Sometimes, patience doesn't pay!
Those who considered the Rimell legacy would die with Fred had underestimated his widow and Cheltenham matriarch Mercy, who took on the training licence in 1981 and forged a career of her own.
Mercy's riding life had begun almost as early as Fred's, winning a Point-to-Point at just 14. But if she'd been second best before, she excelled when in charge herself. Gaye Brief and half brother Gaye Chance won the Champion Hurdle and Stayers Hurdle respectively during an 8 year spell when the Rimell name shone as bright as before.
After her retirement, she owned horses for several years, but sadly lost all her racing trophies to a break-in where burglars took the lot. She died, aged 98, in 2017.
The third generation or Rimells to impress upon the racing scene include Scarlett, daughter of Fred and Mercy. Scarlett was an accomplished horsewoman in her own right, especially in the show ring, and enjoyed considerable success between the flags, being crowned Lady Point-to-Point champion rider in 1963. She married fellow rider Robin Knipe to set up Cobhall Stud, near Hereford, where they successfully bred trop flight horses under both codes, including Master Oats and Thistlecrack.
Despite her children and grandchildren enjoying success between the flags, Mercy was dead opposed to the professionalisation of the Point-to-Point sport. She advocated owner-riders, but abhored the new trend of livery yards with owners, contesting that this was taking business from licensed racehorse trainers. She may have had a point, but the reality of our current sport is a nursery for young horses, trainers and riders in an economy where very few amateurs have time to train their own horses.
The current generation of Rimells is represented by Mark and Katie Rimell, brother and sister, and grandchildren of Fred and Mercy's elder son Guy. Katie made her grandmother's year when riding the Cheltenham Foxhunter winner Three Counties in 1989, one the first successful lady riders at Cheltenham.
Mark was an accomplished amateur rider, and after the sale of Kinnersley, found his own premises near Witney, building on his background and experience to create a niche training business around a small mixed string. Over 15 years, a steady flow of over 80 winners has proved that the talent hasn't skipped a generation.
With four children through his wife Annie, who'd bet against a fifth generation of this racing dynasty?
Meantime, the racing link at Kinnersley is anything but extinguished. Veteran trainer John Spearing now trains under both codes from the historic yard, perpetuating a century of horsemanship from this wonderful location.