Westwood, Alfie

Alfie Westwood


Article by Chris Pitt



Alfie Westwood, a former lightweight jockey who rode mainly for Harvey Leader and beat Gordon Richards when riding his first winner, died on Sunday, November 22, 2015 after a short illness.

For the last 15 years of his life Alfie was among the most popular ambassadors at Newmarket’s National Horseracing Museum, showing visitors around and coaching them on the mechanical racehorse simulator.

Alfred James Westwood, better known as Alfie, was born on August 8, 1935, and raised in Greenwich, London. Being small of stature, when he left school he decided to pursue a career in racing and in 1950 began his apprenticeship with Claude Halsey, who trained at Somerville Lodge in Newmarket.

Alfie rode his first winner on Halsey’s three-year-old gelding Ivernia, a 25/1 outsider, in a one-mile seller at Newmarket’s Guineas meeting on May 1, 1952, beating no less a figure than Gordon Richards, who was riding the hot favourite Pink Cocktail. Alfie later reflected: “Kids didn’t beat Gordon in those days.”


That, however, proved to be his only winner as an apprentice.

After two years of National Service, Alfie returned to racing, this time as a lad with trainer Reg Day at Terrace House in Newmarket High Street. Six years later he joined Harvey Leader’s Shalfleet stables in Bury Road. It was Leader who persuaded him to resume his riding career.

On July 25, 1964, Alfie, by then aged 29, rode his first winner for 12 years (and only

his second in all) on Harvey Leader’s Quissett in the Saxham Two-Year-Old Maiden Stakes at Newmarket. The achievement made front page news in the following day’s Sporting Life, with Harvey Leader commenting that he’d given him the ride “as a reward for his excellent work in the stable”.

Alfie notched the third winner of his career on June 23, 1965, aboard Harvey Leader’s Osotis in the six-furlong Town Walls

Handicap at Yarmouth. It was only his eighth ride of the year. He was back in the winner’s enclosure the following month, at Windsor on July 12, after winning another six-furlong handicap, this time on ‘Fiddler’ Goodwill’s 25/1 outsider Lady Cortina (left). 

That was to be the last winner Alfie rode, although he came close later that season when finishing second at Yarmouth on a horse named Gratel.

In June 1969 Alfie met with a bad accident when unseated by Golden Trail at the start at Folkestone. He declared himself unhurt and rode in the very next race, but it not until a decade later that it was discovered that he had fractured both his hips, signalling the first of three hip replacement operations.

He retired from race riding in 1971 but continued to ride out and worked as travelling head lad for Peter Robinson before joining Peter Haslam, who was then based at Pegasus Stables in Snailwell Road. When Haslam moved his operation north to

Middleham, Alfie stayed at Newmarket, working for Clive Brittain, Alan Bailey, Michael Jarvis and Willie Musson. He only stopped riding out when he reached the age of 73.

The Alfie Westwood Lifetime in Racing Handicap was run in his honour at Newmarket on November 2, 2007. He was also honoured in the Betfair Pride of Britain Racing

Awards.

He thoroughly enjoyed his role at the National Horseracing Museum (right) where he worked three mornings a week, helping visitors and instructing them on the simulator. In a statement following his death, the National Horseracing Museum said the Newmarket racing fraternity had lost “one of its long standing treasures”.





Written by John Berry, the tribute below appeared on the Betfair Forum on November 25

...but much worse news came today when we lost one of the very best, Alfie Westwood.  Alfie was known to many and liked by all during his long life working in racing, and then known to and liked by even more after he had eventually retired and joined an elite band of ex-trainers and ex-jockeys, also including John Powney and Eric Eldin, who give up their time to dispense knowledge, enthusiasm and kindness in equal measure to visitors, particularly children, to the National Horseracing Museum.  Alfie was wonderful with all people, but particularly wonderful with children, and there will be many thousands of children around the country (some of whom will presumably be on their way to being lifelong racing enthusiasts as a result of the inspiration which he gave them) who will have happy memories of a morning or an afternoon spent spellbound under his wing in the museum.

Alfie had aged a lot in recent months, but I don't think that he would have been any more than his early 80s.  I believe that he arrived in town in the late '40s, to be apprenticed (again, I believe) to Claude Halsey in one of the yards down the Fordham Road, possibly Lagrange.  He continued race-riding after his apprenticeship was over, and enjoyed a reasonable career as a lightweight jockey.  However, it was as a travelling head lad that he really came into his own.  He was Patrick Haslam's travelling head lad when Patrick was in Pegasus Stables in the Snailwell Road.  Patrick used to have a lot of runners in Scotland, and so much time did Alfie spend up there and so much liked was he there that for many years Hamilton ran an Alfie Westwood Stakes in his honour.

When Patrick moved up to Middleham, Alfie moved on to Willie Musson, where he did everything.  He carried on riding out well into his 60s long after his first hip replacement, and was still working there well into his 70s, latterly just part-time in tandem with spending much time enthusing and enthralling the children in the museum.  For a small stable, Willie's yard has produced a remarkable number of good apprentices.  Stevie Donohoe and Lisa Jones would probably be the most successful (the former was champion apprentice while there and the latter finished third in the apprentices' title).

David McCabe did very well before moving on to David Loder, and is still, I would guess now in his early 40s, picking up the odd race-ride for Aidan O'Brien.  Phil Shea was always going to get too big, but he still rode plenty of winners, while Stuart Lanigan, Debbie England and many others who have slipped my mind also did well.  And I would say that the one common denominator between them all - other than having been apprenticed to Willie, of course - would be that they would all say that having access to the constant kindness and common sense which flowed from the father-figure of Alfie, one of the nicest men anyone has ever known, was a major factor in helping to keep them pointing in the right direction.

We're told that the evil which men do lives after them, while the good is oft interred with their bones.  We'll never find out about how long the evil lives from Alfie because he never did any evil; but he did a hell of a lot of good, and that will all live after him, and for many decades still to come too, thanks to the inspiration and good example which he gave to the many thousands of people, and particularly young people, who had the good fortune to cross his path.  May he rest in peace, and may God comfort his brother John in his grief at the loss of a wonderfully kind and caring lifelong ally.










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