Richard Barber, one of point-to-pointing’s greatest trainers, has died at the age of 78.
From his home in Dorset he saddled well over 1,000 winners between the flags, four winners of the Cheltenham Festival's Foxhunter Chase (a joint-record) and a single winner of Aintree's Foxhunters' Chase. He was also involved in such famous names as Cheltenham Gold Cup winner See More Business, who he bought unbroken for 5,600gns and trained to win two point-to-points before the horse moved to Paul Nicholls, and also of Gold Cup runner-up Rushing Wild, who won a Foxhunter Chase for Barber before moving to Martin Pipe's yard.
Barber later formed an alliance with Nicholls and ran a satellite yard for the champion trainer. He was overseeing the mare L'Aventure when she won the 2005 Welsh National for Nicholls, and also Rock On Ruby when he took the 2011 Champion Hurdle, although Barber's then assistant, Harry Fry, was credited with handling the horse's Cheltenham preparation.
No one could doubt Barber's role as the trainer of four Foxhunter Chase winners, namely Rushing Wild (1992), Fantus ('95 & '97) and Earthmover ('98), and he saddled Trust Fund to win the Aintree equivalent in 2009. Sleeping Night and Torduff Express, who won the big hunter chase at Cheltenham and Aintree respectively in Nicholls' name, were at the time in his satellite yard run by Barber.
On Britain's point-to-point circuit five riders won 11 national championships under Barber's guidance, namely Justin Farthing, Pollys Curling and Gundry, Rachael Green and Will Biddick. Curling, who won 40 races in 1995, a season's record for a woman that stood until beaten by Gina Andrews this season, said of Barber: "He had a great eye for a horse. It was amazing, and he didn't pay big bucks. He bought Earthmover for 7,500gns and the horse won twice at the Festival and 26 races.
"He was not one for giving great interviews and talking when he didn't need to, but he was brilliant with young horses – some people said he was hard, but he produced some wonderful horses."
Gundry, who won three women's titles with Barber, and eight in total, said: "He was first and foremost a stockman. His brother, Paul, was the businessman, while Richard was a serious countryman who loved point-to-pointing. He made an income from the sport, but he didn't train to make money – it was where his heart lay. I would not have been champion once without him."
Will Biddick, who is about to land his seventh championship, won his first three under Barber's guidance. Biddick said: "I rode for Richard towards the end of his career. It was said he could be a bit grumpy when he was younger, but I never saw that side of him. He always backed me up, and he gave me my big chance. I was riding ten to 12 winners a season until I rode for him. He saw something I didn't see."
A Cornishman, Biddick added: "He loved a chuckle, and liked making a joke that Cornish horses were not so good. When I schooled he would look at the list and say to me, 'That's a good horse, that's another good horse, but that is one for Cornwall'."
Andrew Merriam, chairman of the Point-to-Point Authority, said: "Richard was a very special man, a shrewd judge of a horse, and brilliant at preparing horses. He will be sorely missed."
Barber's legacy sprawls across champion horses, trainers and riders – on the point-to-point circuit and under Rules – and his training base became known as 'mini-Lambourn'. The all-weather gallop he built, one of the first in the country to be used by a point-to-point trainer, is used daily by licensed trainers Fry, Anthony Honeyball and Jack Barber, his grandson, but also by countless point-to-point trainers and visiting licence holders.
Regularly saddling 50 winners in a season, Barber would have been Britain's Foran Equine champion point-to-point trainer numerous times, but the title was not inaugurated until the 2012/13 season, when, aptly, he became the first winner. His achievements in the sport included saddling seven winners at the Mendip Farmers' meeting in 1998 and six-timers at the South Dorset ('94) and Cotley (2011). In 2011 he saddled nine consecutive winners at fixtures held at Larkhill and Cotley.
He saddled his first winner, Gerry Doyle, at Nedge in 1986, and his final one, Whataknight, at Bratton Down in 2014. After he stepped aside that summer his grandson Jack became national champion trainer for the following two seasons.
In numerical terms Barber has one rival to the position of Britain's greatest point-to-point trainer, Suffolk's Joe Turner, whose heyday preceded Barber, but like him would have been a multiple champion had the award existed.
Barber never saddled the winner of the Connolly's RED MILLS champion horse title, while Turner won it five times with four horses. Yet Turner did not saddle a Cheltenham Festival or Aintree winner, preferring Fakenham to either of those two venues.
Barber, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, leaves his second wife, Viv, and four children, Point-to-Point Authority Board member Jeremy, plus Charlotte, Jason, and Vicky. Jeremy's son Jack is a licensed trainer, while Charlotte's son Christopher is a point-to-point trainer who also trades young horses.
Richard's Funeral will be held at the church at Seaborough on Monday 24th of June at 2.30pm.