Cheltenham Gold Cup-winning trainer Robert Alner has died aged 76.
He sent out Cool Dawn to win the 1998 renewal of the Festival feature, with other star names handled by the former Dorset trainer including Gold Cup runner-up Sir Rembrandt, multiple Grade One winner The Listener and Betfair Chase hero Kingscliff.
Alner was seriously injured in a car crash in 2007, an accident which left him paralysed and in need of a wheelchair.
He continued to train under a joint licence with his wife, Sally, until 2010, when the pair announced their retirement.
Son-in-law Robert Walford, a trainer himself, said: “Sadly Robert has passed away.
“Obviously he had the car crash a long time ago, but I don’t think it has been as big a struggle in recent years as perhaps many people think.
“The last week has been difficult, though. He was 76.”
Alner also trained 2002 Cleeve Hurdle winner Kates Charm, 1997 Whitbread Gold Cup hero Harwell Lad and Super Tactics, who racked up 13 wins for the yard.
The jockey who was intrinsically linked to the yard was Andrew Thornton, who admitted he owed his career to Robert and Sally Alner.
Thornton rode Miko De Beauchene to an emotional victory in the Welsh National, just weeks after Alner’s crash.
“He’d been going to Odstock Hospital every two months on and off for the last 12 years – the nurses knew him like part of the family. Even last week one of the nurses was reading him the Racing Post and read him it even though he wasn’t in a good way,” said Thornton.
“I didn’t see him as much as I’d like to as I live up north now, but I’d try to get to see him when I was down there. I always said Robert spoke more after the car accident than he did before it.
“When I was still riding he was still following my career. He was a massive part of my career – there’s no question I wouldn’t have achieved what I did without him. I met him at the right time and we moved along together.
“I suppose he was one of the last old school trainers. He had around 65 horses, predominantly chasers, and a lot that came from Ireland like Cool Dawn and Super Tactics, but he moved with the times – Miko De Beauchene came from France.
“To have had horses of the class of Cool Dawn, Sir Rembrandt, Kingscliff, The Listener and Miko De Beauchene while never having more than around 60 horses takes some doing.
“His horses stood the test of time, Super Tactics was 14, Twisted Logic won at 13, he just had very tough horses who kept coming back.
“It is said horses take after their trainer and his did, they just kept coming back and he did the same. He was given two years to live after the crash and he lasted over 12.
“He was never fazed about going to Ascot to take on the big boys and he’d just tell me to jump out and keep kicking.
“The one thing I will always remember is leaving home at 5.30am to get to his for 7am, I’d walk in the kitchen and Robert or Sally would say ‘you know where the kettle is, help yourself’.
“When Miko won the Welsh National, that was a very emotional time for all of us.”
Alner is survived by his wife, his daughters Louise and Jennifer, and four grandchildren.
Daryl Jacob was based with the Alners during the early part of his riding career and won three Grade Ones aboard The Listener.
The duo landed the 2006 Lexus Chase, before going on to bag the John Durkan the following year and the Irish Hennessy in 2008.
Jacob tweeted: “Boss, my father, best friend, thank you for all the wonderful days together, the advice, love, looking after my career to the best it could be. I will be forever in debt to you.”
Champion trainer Paul Nicholls also took to Twitter to pay his own tribute and said: “His achievements as a top amateur jockey and racehorse trainer are well documented and include a Cheltenham Gold Cup with Cool Dawn.
“It was Robert’s extraordinary toughness of spirit after a life-threatening car accident in November 2007 that left an indelible impression on everyone who knew him.
“That he survived for more than 12 years after sustaining such terrible injuries was nothing short of miraculous. He was confined to a wheelchair, could hardly move and needed 24-hour care for the rest of his life. But he continued to take a lively interest in everything around him, followed racing closely, retained a warm sense of humour and was an inspiration to his friends, family and the doctors and nurses who looked after him at Odstock.
“I’d see Robert from time to time at out local point-to-points, invariably in good form, holding court from his wheelchair in the back of his specially converted vehicle. Frankly, he was a marvel. What an amazing man. RIP.”