Day At The Track

United Kingdom's Ian Pimlott is a driving force

04:04 AM 23 May 2017 NZST
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Coalford Chief, harness racing Solicitor, harness racing Ian Pimlott, harness racing
Ian Pimlott driving Coalford Chief
James Gilmore photo
Ian Pimlott, driving the trotter Solicitor
Owner George Button, Sr., Le Trot's Marie-France Wissocq and trainer-driver Ian Pimlott with Thunder Jiel at Chelmsford
Lydia Button Photo

Senior harness racing driver in the United Kingdom, Ian Pimlott, should have teeth that are as excellent as his driving skills.

Born and raised in Manchester, near the popular Droylsden harness raceway, he became fascinated by horses from a very early age.

Every Monday afternoon through the harness racing season, he informed his teachers that he had a vital dentist’s appointment, and skipped off to watch the trotters and pacers flying around the hard circuit with their canny drivers perched on their fragile-looking sulkies.

At the tender age of 8, Ian was helping George Dodd, one of the leading trainers at Droylsden, mucking out, riding, learning his chosen art of driving and horse-care, spending every spare minute at the stables.

He soaked up every scrap of knowledge, loved the horses, and his natural quiet sympathy gave him that enviable rapport that marked him as a true horseman.

At age 12, he rode Little Jim to victory at Penybont, the major meeting in Wales, but, due to the rules, he had to wait until he was 16 to race on the sulky seat.

In 1964, Our Bill trotted to victory at Prestatyn to put the name Ian Pimlott in the official record books for the first time, and 53 years (and two new hips!) later, he is driving better than ever, piloting a three-year-old debutante trotter into the Tir Prince winner’s circle at the first meeting of the 2017 season.

Has the maestro, who has won every race worth winning under the British Harness Racing Club rules, ever kept score of his winners over the past six decades?

“No, sorry,” he said, “But I do know that I’ve won the Musselburgh Famous Pace seven and a half times!”

He counts the dead-heat between Bye For Now, whom he was driving for George Carter, and the Irish raider, The Little One, (“Can’t remember what year though – a long time ago!”) as half a victory. He modestly agrees that Musselburgh has been his speciality. “I even won the £100 raffle there after I’d had 8 winners one year!”

A talented footballer, Ian was offered a trial as a professional as he left grammar school, but he turned it down to go and work for George Dodd and his nephew Edmund, doing a few hours in the latter’s butchers shop, but mostly working with horses.

“We all make mistakes!” he jested, but there is no doubt that Ian Pimlott would not have changed his destiny for any glamorous pay-packet in the world.

He was 17 when he met his future wife, Kathleen Ashworth, daughter of Harvey, one of the owners George trained for.

“I won with Harvey’s trotter, Staly Hal at Prestatyn, and told his daughter to go to his head for the photograph,” Pimlott explained, “She thought I was bossy!”

They were married a year later, and were devoted for over 40 years, until Kath’s untimely death in 2013. A bitter blow for Ian, his two daughters, and brace of granddaughters.

Ian began training Standardbreds in his own right at 18 years old.

“I was very late for work one morning after a Presentation Evening in North Wales, and George (Dodd) sacked me!” Pimlott remembered. “So, I began driving Harvey (Ashworth) about, and started to train a couple of Harvey’s horses from Staly Hall, Stalybridge in Cheshire. 

“And then a few folks wanted me to train their horses, though I never took on more than 10 at one time.”

Fittingly, Staly Hal gave him his very first success as a trainer, at Prestatyn.  And the rest really is history, written in the Night Racing Co and BHRC record books. Ian fondly remembers his first Musselburgh Pace winner, Blue Streak, but one of his most satisfying memories of the horses he has handled over the years is of Pendle Bret.

“No-one knew how good he was,” Pimlott smiled, “In those days, you had to win a race to be able to enter for Musselburgh, and he qualified at St Asaph in a fairly slow time. But at Musselburgh, it nearly all fell apart!

“In those days, it was a tape start, each handicap ‘box’ was 12 yards apart,” Pimlott explained. “and the starter counted down, the knack was not to be facing the wrong way as you were turning when the tapes sprung back! Pendle Bret, a great big chestnut, was facing the right way alright, but he had his nose on the tape so it caught him when it was released. He went straight up on his back legs as the others went away, and I swear it felt like ten minutes before he came down!”

But victory was all the sweeter for giving everyone an early scare, with Pimlott getting Pendle Bret back into the race, then sweeping round the field to victory lane.

Eventually, the prolific winner Pendle Bret was sold to race in Canada, and Ian accompanied him. Local newsmen were present when he worked him out on his new home track in Alberta, so that a photo of him with a banner headline ‘The Big Red Pacing Machine Has Arrived!’ blazed across the front of the local Canadian newspaper.

Over the years, Ian has driven winners in many countries all around the world, both trotters and pacers.

“I missed going to Russia because I broke my wrist after I’d been invited,” Pimlott recalled. “It was a shame but I’ve been lucky enough to drive in plenty of other countries though.”

Ian’s career has been liberally laced with falls and fractures of all descriptions, the most serious being a broken neck sustained in a (televised) multiple pile up at Tir Prince, but nothing has ever deflected him from the sulky seat for long, or even slightly dented his superior skill.

There have been great many changes in the course of Ian’s career.

“There had to be a minimum of 10 stone 7lbs on the sulky seat, so I had to carry a lot of lead under my seat when I started!”

But he has adapted to every change that came along, and admits that the start car was a welcome innovation, saving hours of schooling horses for the tape start.

“You weren’t going to win if you were facing the wrong way when the tapes pinged!”

Nowadays, Ian is busy combining family duties (Grandaughter Olivia is a class swimmer, and Annie Lux is the equestrian) with farming and training at Lymm in Cheshire.

He is heavily involved with the Le Trot sponsorship initiative through TROTBritain, whereby the French sponsor races for the trotters purchased from them.

“It’s really going forward – we have a 3-year-old Series worth £60,000 at Tir Prince on September 9th, as well as races for Trotteur Francais Aged Horses,” he explained.

It was fitting indeed that having invested so much energy into the initiative, he should have partnered the very first Series winner, Enez Leman, trained by Mike Evans. And Ian Pimlott is very good at Firsts. Among all his other great achievements, he drove Rag Trade to victory for the first harness race on Doncaster Racecourse (‘must be nearly 30 years ago!’), Cerion Eagle to the first official harness race at Hereford Racecourse in 2008, Crown Manhattan to win the William Hill Championship Series Final at Wolverhampton, and last November he won one of the very first trotting races to be staged at Chelmsford City racecourse with George Button’s Thunder Jiel.

Such was the success of that evening’s venture that three further dates have been agreed with Chelmsford City in 2017. Rest assured that Ian Pimlott will be behind the starting gate for each of the fixtures (August 15th, September 30th and October 12th).

In answer to the obvious, but superfluous question, he grinned. “Of course, I’m not thinking of retiring……I’d have to get a proper job then!”

Watch out for those familiar yellow and black colours in the winner’s enclosure for a long time to come.

By Stella Havard 

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