Welcome to house that Jack built

Princess Anne with Jack Berry at the official opening of jack Berry House

Princess Anne with Jack Berry at the official opening of jack Berry House

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JACK Berry stands by the side of his striking statue and looks around in admiration at the rehabilitation centre, which bears the name of the legendary Lancashire trainer.

The hundreds of red bricks – sold at £50 a time towards the cost of Jack Berry House – that make up the paving in front of Berry’s sculpture, carry the inscribed names of Arkle, Grittar, Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Night Nurse and Dubawi Gold, some of racing’s greats.

“Words can’t describe what I think about this place,” said Berry who trained for many years at Moss Side Racing Stables at Cockerham near Garstang, and remains a familiar figure on the scene.

“I broke 46 bones in my riding career and jump jockeys average a fall every 16th ride. We need to look after them.”

Berry, who will celebrate Betfred Jack Berry House Day at Haydock Park tomorrow said: “When the guys put the statue in, they had to lower it into position from about 20 foot.

“There I was, looking at myself hanging by the neck. I think it was the first hanging in Yorkshire for 200 years.”

The £3m rehabilitation centre for injured jockeys, at Malton near York, was given the royal seal of approval in June, when it was opened by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne who described Berry’s efforts as ‘remarkable’.

The facility includes a rehab pool, horse simulators, a gymnasium and respite accommodation, that will greatly aid the recovery of injured jockeys in the north of England.

In the Respite Wing, which incorporates a games room, communal kitchen and sitting room, the four bedrooms are named after a quartet of Berry’s sprint aces – Paris House, Mind Games, So Careful and O I Oyston.

Recipient of the MBE for his tireless fundraising efforts on behalf of the Injured Jockeys’ Fund, he is proud of the thousands of people who have donated to the cause.

“An lovely old lady from Preston sent me a £2 cheque, and there were sponsored walks and slims, sheep-shearing contests, Discos and Murder Mystery nights. I was bowled over by people’s incredible generosity.

“I was doing a TV interview at York and Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad, who was at the course, saw it. He wanted to support Jack Berry House, so he donated 20 of his horses, and all the winnings would go towards the cost of the centre.

“Then he called and said ‘I’ve got a cheque for you Mr Berry. It was for £450,000, but when it gave it me he had rounded it up to half-a-million.”

Dubbed ‘Mr Two Year Old,’ because of his prodigious ability to turn out young winners, Jack was never a man bound by convention.

He habitually wears a red shirt at the racecourse, his idea of a slap-up meal for the family, according to son Alan who took over at Cockerham when his dad retired in 2000, used to be egg and chips at the Forton Service Station on the M6.

One thing that was always predictable: that he would train 100 winners a season – and by the time he had finished he had clocked up 1,657 firsts.

“I loved Cockerham, and I wanted to end my days there,” he said. “I was very hands-on, I’d be in the yard at 2am looking at the horses.

“I could get by on four hours sleep a night. If it was breathing, had four legs and a tail then it had half a chance at Cockerham.

“People asked why I retired. I was 62 and I thought to myself, ‘Jack you are not going to train a Derby winner’ so it was the right time to go.

“Lots of painters are never famous until they’re in a box.

“I’m not saying I was famous, but I achieved my ambition and Jack Berry House is probably the proudest thing of all.”

Now aged 77, Berry’s trademark enthusiasm shows no signs of flagging.

He said“I’m not sure I could hack it now and I’m surprised the top trainers of today even have time to see their horses they have that many.

“I have great respect for Mark Johnston, though, and he’d leave me for dead.

“Nowadays they analyse everything a horse does, from its weight to what it has for breakfast.

“I never weighed a horse in my life. I wanted to live with my horses, and I could sense if there was something wrong by looking into their eyes.”

In 1985, his youngest son, Sam, was seriously injured and permanently disabled in a fall from one of his horses at Sedgefield, but it is not only that personal tragedy which has turned him into the Injured Jockeys’ Fund most dedicated fund-raiser.

“I just the love the game – the best sport on the world – and I wanted to put something back.”

His long treasured desire, says Berry, was to win the Ayr Gold Cup, something he achieved in 1988 with 33-1 outsider So Careful.

“I remember seeing the Ayr Gold Cup when I was an apprentice jockey and I thought if ever I was lucky enough to train horses that’s the one I want to win.

“I’d done lots of stuff, travelled in a royal carriage at Royal Ascot, and had a treble there, but that moment – and this beautiful building that will help others for many years to come – tops the lot.

“When Alan’s boy little boy Jack junior grows up, and if I’m lucky enough still be around in a few years, I’ll bring him here, show him the brick with his name on it, and tell him this was the house that Jack built.”