Kenneth Oliver OBE; born

February 1, 1914; died June 17, 1999

THE death of Ken Oliver has deprived Scotland and the horse racing world at large of one of its greatest characters. He was quite simply irrepressible, with a zest for life that few could think of attempting to match. He was, over a period of almost 50 years, Scotland's most successful racehorse trainer, achieving a best of 56 winners on no fewer than three occasions in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In all, he trained more than 1000 winners.

James Kenneth Murray Oliver was raised on the family farm of Hassendeanbank, near Hawick. He was educated at Warriston Preparatory School at Moffat and Merchiston Castle in Edinburgh, where he excelled at sport, playing for both the 1st XV at rugby and the 1st XI at cricket as well as being an accomplished tennis player.

He joined his father, Douglas, in the family livestock auctioneering business of Andrew Oliver & Son in Hawick, the oldest such firm in the UK having been founded in 1817, where the young Oliver progressed from office boy to selling pigs before graduating to cattle and sheep. In the spring of 1935 Ken made his winning point-to-point debut on a one-eyed horse called Delman. He was bitten and soon acquired several decent horses with which he won. This prompted the idea of holding regular sales of bloodstock at Kelso with the first being staged in September 1937.

At the start of the Second World War, Ken enlisted and while on leave he married Joan Innes. He was commissioned into the Yorkshire Hussars with whom he served in North Africa and Sicily before being invalided home to the Borders. However, while lying in a hospital bed in Catania he came up with the idea that the family firm should set up an estate agency. He was correct and soon the firm was selling farms and estates all over Great Britain, and, in addition, frequently supplying the new owners with livestock.

Ever on the lookout for a really good horse, Ken had one called Johnnie Walker sent from Ireland. Another was to be the mare Sanvina on which Ken won the Scottish Grand National at Bogside in 1950. When he took out a full training licence some years later the Oliver name was to be writ large with no fewer than five winners in the Scottish National.

However, the horse with which he will forever be associated is Wyndburgh, owned by Rhona Wilkinson who was to become his second wife. Wyndburgh ran in six consecutive Grand Nationals. He was second in 1957, at his first attempt, behind the Fred Winter-ridden Sundew. The following year he came fourth, but in 1959 he was among the unluckiest of losers finishing behind Oxo. But for the fact that the jockey, Tim Brookshaw, suffered a broken stirrup-iron at Becher's the second time around, Wyndburgh could well have won.

At Wolverhampton in 1968, he achieved a remarkable feat taking five horses down from the Borders to the Midlands track and winning with all of them. Business acumen was ever part of the Oliver philosophy and he and his great friend Willie Stephenson, who trained Oxo, resurrected the Doncaster Bloodstock Sales in 1962 with an investment of just #100 each. The sales are now one of the major trading places for quality horses.

Away from racing the Oliver drive to make things happen resulted in him becoming a director of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. In that capacity he did wonders for the light horse section at the annual Highland shows and then moved on to do precisely the same to a near moribund flower show at the same event. Strangely, for one who gave so much to racing, his award of the OBE two years ago came for services to agriculture, none the less it was an honour much treasured. He is survived by his wife, Rhona, a son and daughter, and three grandchildren.