Racing reels again after the death of Aintree chairman Rose Paterson, aged 63

Marcus Armytage
The Telegraph
Rose Paterson — Racing reels again after the death of Aintree chairman Rose Paterson, aged 63 - KEVIN HOLT
Rose Paterson — Racing reels again after the death of Aintree chairman Rose Paterson, aged 63 - KEVIN HOLT

Racing was reeling from a second Grand National related tragedy in quick succession on Wednesday when it announced that Rose Paterson, chairman of Aintree Racecourse since 2014, had died. She was 63.

The news came 24 hours after the death of Liam Treadwell, who rode the 100-1 winner of the 2009 National, Mon Mome.

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Paterson was asked to join the committee at Aintree by Lord Daresbury in 2005 and proved an excellent choice to take over when he had completed 25 years in the role.

She was certainly not coming at it cold. She learned to ride aged five and her interest in racing had been stimulated by her mother, a “great television punter” who had a horse in training with Bill Elsey, Rosa Do (soon given the sobriquet “Rosa Don’t” after failing to trouble the judge) in Malton.

She spent her gap year between school and Cambridge working for Gavin Pritchard-Gordon in Newmarket. Apart from a few choice swear words and having to put up with lads “discussing the size of my bottom” she soon learned that racehorses, even the quiet ones, did not pull up as quickly as the horses she was used to.

In her professional life she valued 19th and 20th century art for Sotheby’s. Her big moment in the art world was discovering a Guercino in the basement of Macclesfield Town Hall being used as a ping-pong table. It sold for £100,000, a lot of money in the early 1980s.

In 2011 she and her husband, Owen, rode in the Mongol Derby on mainly recalcitrant ponies across 100km of Mongolia. She was bucked off several times but described the challenge as a mental rather than physical test.

When asked if she would ever do it again she said she was not that stupid.

In 2014 she was appointed the racecourse chairman in charge, essentially, of racing’s biggest day when it gets the most coverage and interest – sometimes not always positive. She once asked the paparazzi to “be fair” when taking photos of Liverpool ladies having a good time at Aintree.

The course had not long undergone some fundamental changes to make it safer for horse and jockey and during her tenure there was only one fatality in the race.

She described it as a “privilege and thrill be involved in the greatest race in the world” and it was watching people watching the National on Gogglebox, that she realised how most people saw the race; unpredictable, thrilling and terrifying. “I don’t see any other event which is comparable,” she said. “The 10 minutes of the National is short but it’s pure adrenalin.”

Though Aintree is all about those 10 minutes, she saw it as very much belonging to Liverpool and the community. A free days’ racing for locals attracted 30,000 and, though she insisted she was the “chairman” (not chair, or worse, chairwoman) she was one of the driving forces behind the first and subsequently annual Grand Women’s Summit, a panel of leading lights in female sport and business, on Ladies day.

This year she was hoping to see Tiger Roll equal Red Rum’s feat of winning three Grand Nationals having been successful in 2018 and 2019. However she had no choice but to call it off three weeks before it was due to take place because of the coronavirus lockdown.

At the same time she realised Park Palace Ponies, a riding school set up in a disused cinema in Liverpool to help underprivileged children learn to ride, might be in trouble so offered to home five of its ponies which are currently turned out in a paddock at her home along with her hunters which she still rode with the Wynnstay Hunt.

Lord Daresbury, chairman of the course for 25 years before handing over in 2014 and a near-neighbour in Cheshire, said: “She was a brilliant successor. She came from a different direction and did a fantastic job. She worked very closely with Andrew Tulloch, the clerk of the course, who lived only a mile away in North Wales.

“Under her hand the race went from strength to strength. She was very bright, very wise, brilliant with people and had a great sense of fun. Everyone enjoyed working with her and being around her.”

 Willie Mullins, the champion jump trainer in Ireland, said: “She was a great choice for the chair of Aintree, she never got flustered and was always cool in a crisis or in the face of a challenge of which Aintree has had a few. She had a way of bringing people with her rather than dividing them. Every year she came to the Irish trainers and ask what she could do to help us with regard to Aintree.

“She had great foresight. If there was a controversy brewing she’d sort it out before it happened and she was a horsewoman. If there were horse problems and she knew what you were talking about. She came at things from a horse point of view not the point of view of a desk jockey.”

She once said of Aintree: “I’m temporarily in charge of a national treasure. It has been handed to me in a wonderful state and above all it is my aim to hand it over to the next chairman in a similar state.”

She accomplished that all right – but way too soon.

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