Tributes are pouring in for Jim Lewis, the owner of racehorse legend Best Mate, who passed away at the age of 88 on Sunday 26/02/23.
Born in Birmingham in June 1934 Lewis was best known as the owner of Best Mate, an an Irish-bred, English-trained racehorse who, in 2004, became the first horse since Arkle to win three Gold Cups, taking the title in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Lewis was also the owner of Edredon Bleu, winner of the 2000 Queen Mother Champion Chase and 2003 King George. His horses ran in the claret and blue colours of his football team, Aston Villa. His other notable horses included Nakir, Breedsbreeze and Impek, winner of several big races including the Old Roan Chase and Peterborough Chase.
Henrietta Knight, who trained both Best Mate and Ederdon Bleu said “Jim was very superstitious and always wore the same scarf to the races. He loved his racing and his horses and we had a lot of fun. He was a very straightforward owner to deal with and we kept in constant contact, in those days via handwritten faxes. He was a colourful person who was good for the game and a big part of the jumping scene. He had huge patience, too, and would always give horses more time.”
Former Cheltenham boss, Geoff Gillespie has said “He wore his heart on his sleeve. He always wore his Villa scarf and I remember he took the Gold Cup to Villa Park one year. He was one of those rare owners who took the sport beyond the sport. The media loved him and he was a brilliant ambassador.”Embed from Getty Images
Lewis and his friends were known for their rendition of the Best Mate anthem, which consisted of singing the words “Best Mate” to the tune of Amazing Grace.
Lewis ran the Silentnight bed company before setting up his own furniture importing business. This allowed him to indulge in his lifelong passion for jump racing, recruiting Henrietta Knight after reading an article about her in a magazine. A former biology teacher with a background in three-day eventing, Knight is very well connected – her brother-in-law is Lord Vestey, chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse, and her mum was a good friend of the Queen Mother.
Lewis’ first Festival winner was Nakir who picked up the 1994 Arkle, but when he joined forces with Henrietta Knight and her partner Terry Biddlecombe, big-race victories became a regularity. Edredon Bleu went on to add a King George VI Chase in 2003 to his previous Champion Chase success, which included winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase in 2000, while Best Mate also won Kempton’s Christmas feature in 2002. Knight, who trained both Best Mate and Edredon Bleu has stated “In my eyes, Edredon Bleu was every bit as good as Best Mate”.
Lewis was described as ‘old school’ and left Knight and her husband to manage the training of his horses. However, he was in regular contact, in the years prior to mobile phones, Knight would fax him details of how the horses were doing! Knight and Lewis never watched a race together, him being very superstitious, but they enjoyed their time at the races and Knight reflects fondly on the special times she spent with Lewis at the racecourse. There would be ‘joyous scenes’ when the Lewis/Knight/Biddecombe axis were finally reunited in the winner’s enclosure. Knight has a fond recollection of earlier days when “everything was done much slower”
Everyone was waiting for another Arkle and along came Best Mate, who won consecutively for three years in a row. His appearance at a race course would quickly elevate the attraction of the festival. His sudden death in 2005 at Exeter Racecourse left Lewis and the team devastated at the loss of the racing legend. The Horse was returning to racing after a burst blood vessel seven months earlier had ruled him out of bidding for a fourth Gold Cup victory. Best Mate’s ashes were laid at the winning line at Cheltenham where Lewis and his team were responsible for 6 wins. Lewis would lay a wreath at the Best Mate statue every year.
Lewis is survived by his wife Jennifer, three children and four grandchildren.