“DANTE was the best horse I ever rode,” says Tommy Fairhurst. “He was very, very fast and stayed on.”

That is some accolade given that Tommy, 93, is almost as great a horseracing legend as Dante.

As Looking Back reported last week, it is 75 years since Dante’s greatest – and last – triumph, ridden by jockey Billy Nevett to win the 1945 Derby. It was Dante’s eighth victory in nine races, and “the hope of the north” was immediately installed as favourite for that August’s St Leger.

But he never got to the Knavesmire at York for the race – Dante was going blind, a condition that had contributed to his only defeat, and he was retired that summer: one of the greatest racehorses of the 20th Century whose story is so memorable because no one knows what he might have achieved had the odds been in his favour.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

“I only rode him when Nevett was riding other horses, to make sure he didn’t get loose,” says Tommy.

“I worked with him one day when I was riding a horse that had won four races and was very, very good. Nevett was on Dante who hadn’t won yet, and halfway out, Nevitt shouts at me ‘are you going on?’ and I said: ‘I can’t, I’ve had it all’. That’s how good Dante was – he was out of this world.”

Tommy himself was born at Horden in County Durham. “My father was a miner and he wouldn’t let me go down the pit,” he says. “I was the right size for racing, and my father got me into Matt Peacock’s yard.”

Peacock was Dante’s trainer.

As a jockey, Tommy rode 16 winners, but he really made his name as a trainer, based at Glasgow House in the centre of the town. Tommy trained 405 winners, and is most proud of Barry’s Gamble which won the 1988 Windsor Castle Stakes at Royal Ascot.

“I was the first one from up the north to have a winner at Royal Ascot for 50 years,” he says.

But even the celebrations for Barry’s Gamble may not have eclipsed Middleham’s week 75 years ago as Dante’s victory was cheered with dinners and balls.

“We had the Dante dance in The Picture House,” says Tommy.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Middleham’s cinema was where Middleham Motors is today as you climb into the centre of the town. Tommy remembers that the screen was at the river end of the building and the chairs could easily be cleared away to convert it into a dance hall.

“We had some lovely times in there,” he says. “People from all over Wensleydale and officers from Catterick Camps used to come for the dances. It was absolutely fabulous.”

TOMMY’S stables were at Glasgow House. Since his retirement in 1993, they have been run by his son, Chris, and they are steeped in racing history as, of course, is Middleham.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

With plenty of moorland for gallops, trainer Isaac Cape in the 1730s is credited with being the first to create the Newmarket of the north. There was a racecourse on the moors until 1873 and so trainers congregated around the town.

Glasgow House was built around 1800 for the 4th Earl of Glasgow (1766-1843), and it has a plaque on its wall commemorating the “honesty and skill” of trainer James Croft who trained there the first four in the 1822 St Leger – Theodore, Violet, Professor and Corinthian came home in the order that James had sent them out from Glasgow House. James, who was born at East Witton, also trained the Derby winners in 1815, 1816 and 1824.

The 4th Earl’s son and heir, Viscount Kelburn (1792-1869), was an amazing, if not particularly pleasant, character. If half the stories about him are true, he certainly deserves his inclusion in Brewer's book of Rogues, Villains and Eccentrics.

Apparently, Kelburn refused to give his horses names until they had proved their mettle by winning races. This obviously caused immense confusion to those around him, and on the eve of one race, he bowed to pressure by allowing his three entrants to be known as Give-Him-a-Name, He-Hasn't-Got-a-Name, and He-Isn't-Worth-a-Name.

If a horse failed to live up to his lordship’s expectations on the gallops, he shot the poor animal. His record was six executions in one morning.

Brewer's also notes of Kelburn’s hunting habits: “When unable to flush out any foxes, he was quite likely to arbitrarily designate one of his own huntsmen as the quarry and relentlessly pursue the unfortunate man across the countryside for miles.”

Once, the name of “Kelburn” was spelled out in flints in the yard of Glasgow House.