11 Apr 2013
Former trainer Foster, mentor to late Monkees frontman Jones, passes away aged 86
By Simon Milham
The former Newmarket trainer responsible for setting pop icon Davy Jones on his way to stardom with the Monkees has died.
Basil Foster, who shared a lifelong partnership with Jones, passed away after a long illness in Palm City, Florida, on Tuesday. He was 86.
Doncaster-born Foster started his training career in 1955 at Rectory Farm in Enfield. He soon moved to Newmarket’s Lansdown House, which was renamed Holland House in tribute to his first winner, Joe Holland.
Although primarily a jumps trainer, he sent out several handicap winners on the Flat.
An inspiration: Basil Foster (right), pictured with Davy Jones in 2012
Foster went on to train at Lambourn and Middleham, before emigrating and training in Canada and later in Florida.
By his own admission, Foster was 'never a big-name trainer'. Before his death he admitted: 'I had a good time and trained a lot of winners, mainly over jumps. I never won many big races. We only had about 25 horses, but won a few nice handicaps with horses like Genie Michelle who won at Ascot, and we had a horse that finished third in the Lincoln one year.
'I had a lot of friends at Newmarket and used to knock around with (the late trainer) Bernard van Cutsem. They were good times and there were some good people around.'
In his pomp: Foster trained for both Flat and National Hunt racing
Foster was, however, instrumental in forming the career of one of the biggest names in pop music, getting 13-year-old apprentice jockey Jones his big break in showbusiness, introducing him to a theatrical agent who urged him to audition for the role of the Artful Dodger in the West End musical Oliver!
Days before suffering a fatal heart attack at the age of 66 in February 2012, Jones said: ‘Basil insisted I went, and I just cried. I wanted to be a jockey. But he said “You’re going! Come back when you’re famous”.’
Jones always referred to Foster as ‘The Guv’nor’, adding: ‘He was like a second father to me.’
Protege: Davy Jones rides Candid Picture from Basil Foster's stable
The strong bond between the pair was maintained, with Foster living in one of Jones’ homes in Florida until he was transferred to a care facility. Jones visited him regularly and took him to visit his horses on the family ranch. He even named one of his colts Bazfoster after his mentor.
Jessica Jones, one of Davy’s four daughters, paid tribute to Foster. She said: ‘What a character he was. We know those two are up to no good in Heaven. Plotting their next caper, riding until dark, laughing endlessly, sharing a Guinness – but most of all I’m sure they are happy to be reunited. Peas in a pod, those two.
‘Even when dad was in his 60’s and Basil in his 80’s they still got up to antics with the horses.
‘One day, dad took Basil up to the stables and while they were there dad asked Basil’s advice about a difficulty he was having with a youngster. Basil’s advice was that the young horse needed to “go back to basics”.'
Basil prescribed long reining for the flighty mare, which involves two long ropes being set either side of the horse from the bridle and you drive them from behind using the ropes.
‘Dad got out the long reins and attached them to the mare and he attempted to begin the training under Basil’s supervision. The little mare had clearly never had the basics and was rather confused by the process. Dad tried his best and Basil continued to shout instructions at dad from the side-lines apparently to no avail.
Support: Jones took care of Foster for years
‘Basil became frustrated by dad’s “technique” and resumed his “gov’nor” role as he would have done when dad first became his apprentice over 50 years before.
‘He stomped over to dad, snatched the reins and said: “For goodness sake, David (or words to that effect), you need to do it like this...”
‘With that, the young mare decided that these two little men had pushed her too far and took off at full gallop!
‘Basil kept hold of the reins and was dragged along behind her like a balloon in the breeze. Dad shot after them shouting “Basil, let go you bloody fool”. Basil, who had only become more stubborn in the last 50 years, refused to let go until the mare gave in and she dragged him around the three-acre field.
‘She finally stopped and dad went rushing over to his governor, who was covered in Florida dust, had a bloody nose and fat lip – but, much to dad’s relief, nothing more serious!
‘Basil, who was still lying prostrate in the dirt, clinging to the reins, looked up at dad and said, “Now that’s how you long rein a horse David!”
‘Dad fell to the floor laughing, until tears streamed down his face and then Basil got up like nothing had happened and resumed the long reining lesson, albeit with a slight limp.
Dream realised: Jones fulfilled an ambition when riding Digpast to victory at Lingfield
‘There was an incredible photograph in Basil’s hospital room of him as a young man sitting on a huge horse that was rearing right up into the air. I think Basil would like to be remembered like this.
‘God bless Basil for taking my dad in when he was a little 13-year-old boy still grieving for his mother.
‘Learning to ride and being with the horses helped to heal dad and empowered him to have the confidence he needed to go out into the world let his talent shine.
‘Dad did not want to leave the stables but Basil told him he had to go and use his talent – and one day he could buy horses of his own and come back to the stables with him.
‘I think we are all very lucky that Basil had the instinct to recognise dad’s talent when he was just a little boy in Newmarket, which is a far cry from the bright lights of Hollywood.
‘He gave dad the wings he needed to fly and set him up with his first role on Broadway, which led to his career in the Monkees.
‘Every Daydream Believer out there has a lot to thank Basil for.’
Foster is survived by his sister, Doreen Drabble, a son and a daughter.