Norfolk coalman makes racing history with Sprowston Boy

Coal merchant Kenny Blanch, who has died aged 87, was joint owner of one of the most remarkable race- horses in the county's recent history.

He bought Sprowston Boy as a yearling with lifelong friend, insurance salesman Geoff Whiting, for �4,500. Together, they named the gelding after the street in which they were born, Sprowston Road.

The horse, which was retired in 1997, won 13 races and a total of more than �100,000 in prize money – on the flat and over hurdles and fences.

They had bought the horse, a son of Dominion by Cavalier's Blush from the late Paul Kelleway's Newmarket yard. Initially, Sprowston Boy – or Sprowie – ran over five furlong dashes but he graduated to three-mile plus chases.

For the third-generation coal merchant, who was still at work in the family's coalyard into his mid 80s, owning this racehorse was a real highlight and talking point.

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Sprowston Boy's two biggest victories caused the bookmakers, especially in Norwich, real pain. Ridden by Paul's daughter, Gay Kelleway, he won the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot in 1987. She became, and remains, the only female jockey to have ridden a Royal Ascot winner. The 12-1 winner finished eight lengths clear of Henry Cecil's odds-on entry and picked up �25,000 in prize money.

Later that year, Sprowston Boy added another top prize, the Listed Imperial Cup at Sandown and beat one of the Queen's horses.

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But it was on home ground that Sprowston Boy was so popular. He won three times at Fakenham including his final victory in the Prince of Wales Cup in May 1996. It was his last appearance at the Norfolk course before his retirement and he made up about 20 lengths to get up to win as the crowd almost raised the roof of the grandstand.

He was retired for 12 years, spending three of his last years at Dick Allen's stables at Felmingham. But last August Bank Holiday Monday, the 26-year-old gelding died.

'We were so lucky to have found a horse like him. When he won his last race at Fakenham you should have heard the cheer that went up – it was like England had scored a goal at Wembley,' said Kenny.

One of seven children, Kenneth Dereck Blanch was joined by four of his brothers in the family's coal business, started by his grandfather more than 100 years ago.

After working six and often seven days a week throughout his life, he was still helping in the Sprowston Road coalyard until last August. His nephew, Paul, who has been delivering coal for the past 25 years, is the fourth generation to carry on the tradition.

Married to Ivy, they would have celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary on Monday but he became ill on his birthday, July 8, and was taken to hospital.

A funeral service will be held at Wroxham Road Methodist Church, Sprowston, on Monday at 1.45pm before interment in Sprowston Cemetery, where the rest of his family have been buried.

Michael Pollitt

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