George Cook: breeder of Aintree hero Border Burg

  • Posted: Thursday, 13th January 2022
  • Author: Carl Evans

George Cook, who bred and played a key role in the training of 1987 Aintree's Foxhunters' Chase winner Border Burg, has died at the age of 89.

A bachelor, Cook (pictured above, leading in Border Burg at Aintree) was born in Buckinghamshire, lived in the Chiltern Hills in the same house all his life, and was employed for 40 years as a groom for hunters and point-to-pointers by the Delahooke family at Adstock Manor. He commuted the 12 miles there from a 50-acre small-holding – which he shared with his brother John – where he kept a few mares who produced some outstanding hunt racers. Border Burg, who won Aintree's famous race under Alan Hill, was the pick of these home-breds, but Cook also bred King Neon who won Stratford's Champion Novices' Hunters' Chase for the John Corbet Cup. Other classy hunters in which he was involved included I Got Stung, who won the John Corbet 12 months before King Neon, Jack Of All Trades, a specialist over two and a half miles, and the multiple ladies' race winner Sporran Lad.

James Delahooke, a leading bloodstock agent, said in tribute: "George was a lifelong bachelor, as was his devoted younger brother John who died in October. Girlfriends and hopefuls came and went but the Cookie boys lived by the principal that when you are single your pockets do jingle!

"The boys were left a 50-acre small holding under the Chiltern Hills where they kept their mares and raised the youngsters. Their pointers were trained at Adstock until 1992 when I moved to Yorkshire. Thereafter training was with Joan Johnston.

"George was an ever-cheerful, glass is half-full character who was as loyal, hard-working, uncomplicated, dedicated and delightful as you could wish for. He was also my best friend."

The first good horse Cook cared for was the diminutive street fighter Halfacrown who loved to hear his feet rattle as he passed the post first in 26 point to points. From local hunting farmer George Simms he and his brother acquired a mare named Border Knife who rewarded them with a fine colt foal by Perhapsburg, subsequently named Border Burg.

One look from Delahooke at the then four-year-old gelding convinced him to make an offer, which gave Cook the best of both worlds – a large cheque and hands-on care of his pride and joy. Border Burg made his debut as a six-year-old in an adjacent hunts' race at Mollington, and while set for a quiet educational run he pulled Tom Illsley’s arms out and trotted up. He went on to win 13 hunters' chases and was second in the Cheltenham equivalent. Delahooke said: “I was such a bad trainer it took me years to figure out that he didn’t stay an inch beyond three miles – Aintree was ideal but the extra two furlongs at Cheltenham always found him out."

Alan Hill said: "George was a brilliant stockman whose horses always looked seriously well. He was a particularly good feeder of a horse and he bred some good horses, too.

"He weighed about 9st fully clothed with a saddle, while I wasn't that light, and on schooling mornings in the middle of winter I would be starving hungry and very cold and George was always eating and talking about food, much to my annoyance. Of course, the horses he rode always worked all over me, because he was so much lighter.

"James was the luckiest man in the world to have such a man as George, and also Joan Johnston, who was a brilliant rider at home. She rode Border Burg and I Got Stung, who were horrendously strong, while George would ride Jack Of All Trades, who was an absolute gentleman.

"George was a great personality and a lovely man with it."