ONE familiar face who will be absent from Cheltenham this year is Harry Beeby. The former chairman of Doncaster Bloodstock Sales and president of Goffs UK passed away last October, aged 83.

Cheltenham was Harry’s favourite meeting of the year and with good reason. His father George trained two Gold Cup winners and, in more recent times, Harry - alongside his son Henry - saw several more Gold Cup winners pass through the Doncaster Sales ring.

“It was fitting that the 2020 Festival turned out to be my father’s final trip to the races,” Henry reminisced. “He raced a huge amount throughout his life – he was also a racecourse commentator for 30 years – but he used to say if he could only have three days’ racing in the year it would be Cheltenham, because it was the greatest meeting in the world and the best racing in the world. He adored everything about it.”

Like so many Festival regulars, Harry had his Cheltenham routine. “He was a member of the Turf Club in London and they take a marquee at the racecourse. He had lunch there with friends and clients but it had to be early so that he could watch every race from the lawn. He didn’t miss a Festival from the age of 13, which was in 1951, the year my grandfather George trained Silver Fame to win the Gold Cup.”

Gold Cup double

George Beeby trained out of Hamilton Stables near Newbury for 36 seasons. He won a Stewards’ Cup on the flat but he was mainly a jumps man and, in addition to his two Gold Cup winners, he won a King George VI Chase and twice saddled the runner-up in the Grand National at Aintree.

Henry said: “My grandfather died when I was 10, so I did not know him well but I can tell you he was a very charismatic, elegant man. Like my father, he was always well-dressed, a bon viveur, who did his job at the races but also enjoyed the social side. He was popular – Dick Francis was one of his main jockeys – and he married an Irish woman.”

It was inevitable that Harry would be drawn to the turf and in 1964 he joined with Willie Stephenson and Ken Oliver, who had set up Doncaster Bloodstock Sales two years earlier. Famously, Harry was wielding the gavel when Ginger McCain bought Red Rum for 6,000gns in 1972.

Henry joined the business in 1982 and among the future Gold Cup winners to be sold at Doncaster in the intervening years were Charter Party, Master Oats, See More Business and Bobs Worth.

“All four of their trainers – David Nicholson, Kim Bailey, Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson – have been great supporters of DBS [now Goffs UK] and my father knew them all well,” Henry added. “In terms of Cheltenham winners, there was also the likes of Voy Por Ustedes, Tidal Bay, Samcro and Tiger Roll. We would cheer them all on at the Festival though sometimes it conflicted with Dad’s bets and we would have a good laugh about that!”

Cheltenham support

Although Harry used to say the Festival was his favourite three days, he supported the introduction of the fourth day and generally felt the racecourse got it right each time it modernised.

He would enjoy his final two Festivals from the comfort of his wheelchair, with Henry doing the steering. “He still enjoyed it all just as much as before. He was always a very positive person, in good form and happy to meet everyone. We must have received 300 letters and messages since he passed away, and so many people said that about him.”

This year Henry will take his mother Elizabeth to Cheltenham. “She wants to go back, one last time. It will be an emotional return. I suppose it will be slightly surreal not to have my father there with us – we went together for 25 years.”

For obvious reasons, the Gold Cup was Harry’s favourite race. His prize possession was the memento his father received for winning the 1939 Gold Cup with Brendan’s Cottage. “Cheltenham was always the highlight of his year,” Henry says.

Harry Beeby, we’ll raise a glass to you – and all our absent friends - on Gold Cup day.?