THE former jockey Jim Culloty, who partnered Best Mate to three triumphs in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, led the tributes to Terry Biddlecombe, who died yesterday at the age of 72.
Champion jockey in 1965, 1966 and joint-champion with Bob Davies in 1969, Biddlecombe married former trainer Henrietta Knight in 1995. The 'odd couple', as they were affectionately known, enjoyed fantastic success with the likes of Edredon Bleu, Lord Noelie and Impek, but will forever be remembered for their association with the legendary Best Mate, who claimed the Gold Cup between 2002-04.
Culloty was champion amateur in his first season with Knight and Biddlecombe and spent 10 years as their stable jockey. Now a successful trainer in Ireland, he said: "I would rather celebrate his life than mourn his death. The pace at which Terry lived his life, unfortunately he was never going to go on forever. I met him about a month ago and we had dinner together. Physically he obviously wasn't great, but mentally he was in great form, as usual.
Loading article content
"I knew him for 20-odd years and I could write a book about all the things that happened. He was a great fellow and a great character. He was larger than life and lived it to the full."
Tony McCoy also struck up a good relationship with Knight and Biddlecombe, partnering Best Mate to victory in the 2002 King George VI Chase at Kempton and Edredon Bleu to a thrilling triumph in the Queen Mother Champion Chase two years earlier. The 18-times champion jockey said: "I spoke to Hen on Wednesday and I was going to go and see him on Thursday or Friday, but she said he had a bit of a chest infection and I should leave it for a few days.
"She rang me this morning and said he had sadly passed away very peacefully, which I suppose is a good thing, if there is a good thing. He was a great man and had a great life. He came to my party for my 4000th winner and Henrietta said that was the last time he was out."
Biddlecombe also won the Gold Cup when he rode Woodland Venture to victory in 1967 and went close to claiming the Grand National when Gay Trip was second in 1972.
In October 2011 he suffered a stroke and has battled illness for long periods since, prompting Knight to quit the training ranks in May 2012 to help look after her husband.
The horses in her care moved on to Mick Channon's yard, where she still plays an active part in the training of the jumpers.
Channon said: "I have known Terry for a while now, not as long as some of the older jockeys, obviously, but he was a great man and in the time I've known him he became a great friend. Since the stroke it has been very difficult for everybody, but Hen has been absolutely amazing through it all. They were such a fantastic couple and Hen has been such a devoted carer and wife. They were totally dedicated to each other."