It is with great sadness that the death of Robert Alner former point to point champion rider and Cheltenham Gold Cup winning trainer at the age of 76 has been announced. For those of us who had the pleasure of watching him ride in point to points in his heyday in the 80s and 90s there was no finer pilot around the Wessex courses and many of his victories will remain long in the memory. With kind permission of Carl Evans the article below which he has written as a tribute is reproduced below
‘A Dorset dairy farmer who turned his hobby of point-to-pointing into a successful licensed training career, Alner won the national men's championship in 1992 at the age of 48, 31 years after he had ridden his first winner. He notched 31 victories that season, during which he went past the 200-winner mark in point-to-points – he had also partnered 51 winners under Rules to that point.
One year earlier he had sown the seeds for a training career when taking out a permit and passing control of the pointers in his yard to Harry Wellstead. It was a golden era for point-to-pointing in the Taunton Area – later renamed Wessex – with the emergence of brilliant horses Rushing Wild and Double Silk, and numerous multiple winners emerging from the Droop yard run by Wellstead, Alner and his wife Sally. Mr Murdock, Ocean Link, Spring Fun, Baron Bob and the mares Winnie Lorraine, Elver Season and Hops And Pops were among the best ridden by Alner at that time.
Soon after the following season opened, and having ridden seven winners at a handful of meetings to tee up a defence of the title, his leg was broken in a race at Larkhill when another runner jumped into him as they crossed the second fence. Recognising it would be unwise to tackle the looming open ditch, and unable to pull his horse up, he slithered to the ground.
Alner did not ride again that season, but was determined not to end on a low, and returned in 1994 to ride two more point-to-point winners and one in a hunters' chase before quitting the saddle. His final pointing victory came on Mr Murdock at Badbury Rings, and his final hunter chase win came on the same horse at Stratford. A few weeks later he called time after a final-fence fall on Mr Murdock at Wincanton.
That same year Wellstead introduced six-year-old Cool Dawn to British pointing after the horse had run in five Irish points without winning. Showing huge potential, he carried owner Dido Harding to a string of pointing victories and in 1996 finished runner-up to Elegant Lord in Cheltenham's Foxhunter Chase. After a year off he transferred to Alner's licensed yard and in 1998 he won the Cheltenham Gold Cup under Andrew Thornton at odds of 25/1.
Four years later, with Sally handling the pointers, another star emerged in the form of Kingscliff, who won two point-to-points that season, and in 2003 landed Cheltenham's Foxhunter Chase under Richard Young. Two years later he won the Gr.1 Betfair Chase, and two years after that the stable enjoyed Welsh National success with Miko De Beauchene.
A month earlier, having left home in the early morning to drive to France to view horses, Alner's car left the road and the resulting injuries included a broken neck that left him severely paralysed and with breathing complications. With her husband on a life support machine Sally was in charge when Miko De Beauchene won at Chepstow, and a few months later the couple became the first in Britain to be granted a joint licence, which they held for three years.
Since then Sally has trained numerous point-to-point winners, and on Sunday her Tom Barton scored at Milborne St Andrew. Her husband, who died in hospital the following day, had defied the odds and lived on for 12 years despite his injuries.
He is survived by Sally, daughters Jennifer and Louise, and grandchildren.’