The Leeside legends series: Fergie Sutherland knew how to make right Call

The Leeside legends series: Fergie Sutherland knew how to make right Call

Fergie Sutherland watches as Conor O’Dwyer takes Imperial Call through his paces at Tralee in 1999. Picture: Don MacMonagle

FERGIE SUTHERLAND’S life is the stuff of a legend from the Korean War of the 1950s to training the winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 1996 when Imperial Call helped his trainer become the Lion of Cheltenham.

Imperial Call brought a lot of joy to Irish punters and those involved in Irish horse racing as he gave them their first win in the race for 10 years.

Born in 1931 Sutherland came from a wealthy background in Scotland and took the classic route from Eton and Sandhurst into the British Army before fighting under the flag of the United Nations.

He was in action as a lieutenant when it all ended in that one fateful day when the lower part of his left leg was blown off by a landmine.

Sutherland was a brave man as he faced up to the North Korean troops on the battlefield of 1950 and a shrewd one against the Canadians in poker sessions where no pity was shown for the uninitiated.

In the evenings, Fergie learned when to hold and when to fold, and there was always that hearty laugh, even while been skinned by Canadian officers who would have been at home at the tables of Las Vegas.

Sutherland was a young lieutenant of 25 then, but later climbed to the rank of captain.

He had seen many of comrades die in Korea, where a lot of Irish with the British units gave their lives in that war.

Sutherland returned to army duty after losing his leg and found himself in the thick of things in the Suez crisis, but a bout of malaria finished that tour of duty.

He then returned to England and worked with horse trainer Geoffrey Brooke and he later helped Joe Lawson who had trained Never Say Die to win the Epsom Derby.

When Lawson retired, Fergie’s father bought Lawson’s Newmarket yard for his son.

The younger Sutherland loved training horses, but hunting was the great passion of his life and the loss of his left leg didn’t significantly lessen his horsemanship.

Fergie’s training career began to blossom, and he didn’t have to wait long for his first major success. He had a winner at Royal Ascot in his first season.

The fun he had in those years was his recollection of Jack Wolfe a Birmingham bookmaker who was one of his owners.

Sutherland first met Wolfe at Manchester races in 1958 when Fergie was having £20 on one of his horses when Jack spotted him.

“You should be betting with me and anyway will your horse win?”

“Not bloody half and for spite I am going to have a tenner on with you.”

The horse won and that was the start of a great friendship between the two men as the first horse that Sutherland trained for Wolfe was called Boston Girl.

After getting her sorted Fergie reckoned, he had improved the horse by three stone. The rest is history as she won her first race at 8/1 in a two-horse race against a 1/10 favourite called Conwyn.

In 1963, Fergie moved to Carrigadrohid and five years later trained his first winner in Ireland as Primrose Rosy won at Limerick.

Gold Cup:

March 1996 will never be forgotten by racing fans in Cork when Fergie’s horse Imperial Call won the prestigious Cheltenham Gold Cup as the ‘The Banks Of My Own lovely Lee’ sounded around the Cotswolds.

Fergie and jockey Conor O'Dwyer at Leopardstown in 1997. 
Fergie and jockey Conor O'Dwyer at Leopardstown in 1997. 

Imperial Call was bought from Clare horse dealer Tom Costello who became a close friend of Fergie’s.

Whatever the experts thought, Sutherland had made his mind up that Imperial Call and jockey Conor O’Dwyer would win the £225,000 first prize.

Celebrations went on for days at his local pub ‘The Angler’s Rest’ where the locals saluted the genius of Fergie’s achievement.

Sadly following a long illness Fergie Sutherland passed away at the age of 81 in 2012.

The name of Fergie Sutherland, the adopted Irishman, will always be held high by his many friends on Cork’s Lee Valley.

When Fergie retired in 1998 a huge chapter of his life closed but his ready wit, delightful one liners and above all his courage were all sadly missed in the winner’s enclosure.

FACTFILE:

Fergie Sutherland trained Imperial Call to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March 1996.

He moved from his stables in Newmarket in 1963 to Carrigadrohid Co Cork mainly due to his love for hunting and fishing.

Fergie’s first winner was in 1968 when a horse named Primrose Rosy ridden then by then top apprentice Christy Roche when she won at Limerick.

Fergie has his leg blown off during the Korean war of 1950 where he was Lieutenant with the Fifth Dragoon Guards part of the Commonwealth division.

Sutherland retired from training horses in 1998.

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