Clive Brittain: The Smiling Pioneer

By Robin Oakley

“He’s always in tune with his horses. He’s got the equivalent of a gardener’s green fingers. He can just feel it.”

Willie Carson

Clive Brittain is universally acknowledged as the nicest man in horseracing and the smiling face of the sport. But what is highlighted in Robin Oakley’s enlightening biography, Clive Brittain: The Smiling Pioneer, published by Racing Post Books on 8 June, is that Clive was the original pioneer in many aspects of training and taking his racehorses to top overseas races, the man who broke the glass ceiling thereby revolutionising aspirations and opportunities for others.

Clive Brittain was the first trainer to have 100 horses on Newmarket Heath and the first at racing’s Headquarters to install an equine swimming pool. He was the first British trainer to succeed in the Breeders’ Cup in the USA with the wonder filly Pebbles, six years before anyone else did, and the first to win the Japan Cup.

But Clive Brittain’s story is much more than training statistics. A natural and brave horseman who was always given the rogues to handle, he served 23 years as a stable lad with Sir Noel Murless before he defied tradition by setting up on his own and going on to train the winner of every British Classic except the Derby.

Robin Oakley examines the training methods that lie at the heart of Brittain’s unique genius, and how he trains on instinct and individuality favouring co-operation rather than confrontation – “There are no bad horses, only bad people”. There are some wonderful anecdotes on his handling of difficult horses including the enigmatic but brilliant Radetzky who had to be ridden backwards all the way to the heath and sometimes to the start, yet still won Group One races. Oakley also describes Clive’s amazing attention to detail, for example taking a horse’s water with it when travelling abroad.

For a man sometimes criticized for tilting at windmills and running horses at a high level, Oakley examines Clive’s attitude “if you’re not in the race you can’t win it”. He also talks to all the key racing figures whose stories have been intermingled with Clive’s including Sir Mark Prescott, John Gosden, Steve Cauthen, Willie Carson and Pat Eddery. The picture they all paint is of a hard-working, innovative, ‘cup half full’ and remarkable man who lives for racing, has scaled the heights, weathered the lows and had a lot of fun along the way.

Clive Brittain: The Smiling Pioneer by Robin Oakley is published by Racing Post Books on 8 June priced at £20. It is available from and all good bookshops.

ROBIN OAKLEY, though spending most of his life covering politics as Political Editor for The Times, the BBC and CNN, has always found time to indulge his passion for racing. For 15 years he has written the Turf column in The Spectator. He covered racing for the Financial Times and has written Valley of the Racehorse, chronicling a year in the life of Lambourn, the training centre in Berkshire, Frankincense and More: The Biography of Barry Hills and The Cheltenham Festival: A Centenary History.

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