It looks positively antique in the photograph but, take it from me, it was great. I was always Terry Biddlecombe.
And when we went on holiday to the coast I loved playing that amusement arcade game. It was a mechanical horse race. You picked your horse number. The names of jockeys included those of Greville Starkey and the cavalier of the saddle, Biddlecombe.Later in life I would see Biddlecombe ride in the flesh. My levels of excitement when he patted the younger me on the head is hard to convey to young sports fans today. I did not want to wash the hair he ruffled.
Terry liked a drink and, as an adult, I would have loved nothing more than to have had a few drinks in his company. To talk racing. It never happened and now, sadly, never will.
He was on my list of people to interview on camera for this very website. I didn’t get to him with the speed he always displayed when riding any one of his 909 career winners.
I shall leave it to others more capable than I to sum up his career in the saddle. Simply stating that he was three times a champion jockey does not do him justice. Nor that he won the Gold Cup and was second in the Grand National.
He was about much more than mere statistics.
For me Terry Biddlecombe represented fun. And determination. He was gutsy in the saddle. Bet on his horse and you knew you’d have every chance of winning.
I feel sure that Brough Scott will have scribed some pearls of wisdom for the Monday edition of The Racing Post. I look forward to reading his tribute.Terry went on to form a memorable partnership with his delightful wife, the trainer Henrietta Knight. Their career defining moment being when Best Mate became the first horse since the great Arkle to win three consecutive Gold Cups.
I shall long remember those shots of Terry and Henrietta running towards each other to celebrate. Smiles, hugs and genuine, unabashed joy at winning another big race.
The jockey who rode Best Mate to those victories was Jim Culloty.
He said of Biddlecombe: “I would rather celebrate his life than mourn his death.
“The pace at which Terry lived his life, unfortunately he was never going to go on forever.”
Now a trainer, Culloty added: “I met him about a month ago and we had dinner together. Physically he obviously wasn’t great, but mentally he was in great form, as usual.
“I knew him for 20-odd years and I could write a book about all the things that happened – he was apparently relatively quiet when I knew him.
“He was a great fellow and a great character. He was larger than life and lived it to the full.”
When he suffered a stroke in 2011, his loyal, loving and patient wife gave up her trainers licence. She cared for him until he died today, Sunday. On their Facebook page she said that he had enjoyed a lovely breakfast and then passed away peacefully.Henrietta sent their horses to friend and fellow trainer Mick Channon, who paid tribute today: “Since the stroke it has been very difficult for everybody, but Hen has been absolutely amazing through it all. They were such a fantastic couple and Hen has been such a devoted carer and wife.
“Racing lost a true icon today. Others lost a friend, husband and father who made life full of fun. Terry Biddlecombe was a star.”
A simple word. One that is used too readily these days. The essence of the word ‘star’ has lost its meaning in recent years. But Channon is spot on. Biddlecombe WAS a star.
Terry Biddlecombe lived life to the full. There have been few sportsmen I would like to have been. He was one.
And, this child of the late 50’s, will always recall the excitement of racing in the 60’s. Sat watching ‘Grandstand’ with my Dad. Our black and white television showing the flowing blond locks of Biddlecombe in the saddle. We would cheer him on to victory. The word swashbuckling could have been invented for Terry Biddlecombe.
Shamefully, on Sunday night, the BBC national news bulletin made no reference to the death of a home grown sporting great.
They have plenty of footage in their archive. Black & White and colour footage of Biddlecombe winning races in a fashion the current champion jump jockey Tony McCoy would admire.
Last month, and in spite of his bad health, Biddlecombe insisted on being in the pub with many others to shake the hand of AP following McCoy’s 4000th winner.
AP says: “I spoke to Hen on Wednesday and I was going to go and see him on Thursday or Friday, but she said he had a bit of a chest infection and I should leave it for a few days.
“She rang me this morning and said he had sadly passed away very peacefully, which I suppose is a good thing, if there is a good thing.
“He was a great man and had a great life. If he was still here he’d have told you that himself.
“He came to my party for my 4,000th winner and Henrietta said that was the last time he was out.
“I was lucky I had a lot of success with himself and Hen – a Champion Chase on Edredon Bleu and a King George on Best Mate.
“I’ve been very friendly with him since and it’s sad, but he lived a great life, that’s for sure.”
Speaking personally, I consider myself to be fortunate to have lived in an age of many great jockeys.
McCoy and Biddlecombe among them.
Now where is that Escaldo set?