THOSE who place bets at race meetings generally try to match the most capable horse with the most favourable odds. Jockeys looking for an agent to represent their interests knew Bruce Jeffrey to be one of racing’s safest bets.

Mr Jeffrey, who has died at the age of 51 after a short illness, was highly respected in racing circles not only for his discretion and diplomacy, but as someone always prepared to go the extra mile to support the jockeys in his charge.

Having been around horses from a young age, and with his father a well-known horseman and farrier, it was perhaps inevitable Mr Jeffrey’s career would eventually connect with the equestrian world.

Reckoned to be one of sport’s most stressful occupations, jockey agents work long hours, answering around-the-clock phone calls and texts as they contact trainers to try and match their riders with the best possible mounts.

During his 12-year career as an agent, Bruce Jeffrey had the satisfaction of seeing not one, but two of his jockeys win the world’s most famous race, the Grand National.

In 2013, Galashiels jockey Ryan Mania won on 66-1 outsider Auroras Encore, trained by Sue Smith, while in 2017, Derek Fox rode One For Arthur to victory in the Aintree showpiece for trainer Lucinda Russell, at odds of 14/1.

“Bruce had great integrity and there wasn’t a bad bone in his body,” said Fox. “He always wanted the best for you, and got a real kick out of you doing well.

“When I was being led in after winning the Grand National, I remember seeing him over the rails in floods of tears. He was so over the moon for me that I don’t think he would have been able to speak.

“Nothing was ever too much trouble, and when I was without a car he would come and pick me up and take me to meetings, no matter how far away they might be.

“In the early days he made a point of introducing and putting me in touch with a lot of trainers in the Borders, which was a great help. Over the years I’d often stay over at his house to break up a long journey home.

“I’ve had some great days with Bruce, who was just as much a close friend as he was my agent. He will be a big miss.”

Bruce was held in equally high regard by trainers. Rachel Swindon, racing secretary to Craiglands Farm trainer Sue Smith, said Bruce was her favourite jockey’s agent.

“When I first started working for Sue, Bruce was incredibly supportive. He always made time to have a chat and ask how things were, and took a genuine interest.

“He was really kind, and once or twice a year would come down to Craiglands with Shelagh and their dogs for a visit. It’s so very sad he’s been taken from us, and racing has lost a very special person.”

Bruce met his soulmate, Shelagh Hogg, when he visited Selkirk’s Royal Bank in 2000, where Shelagh worked as a customer adviser.

Shelagh shared Bruce’s love of horses, and four years later the couple announced their engagement at Sedgefield racecourse. They moved to Lindean Smithy House in 2006, from where Shelagh operated her business Simply Mortgages Plus, as well as running the Lindean Smithy Store.

Bruce Jeffrey was born in Galashiels Hospital on October 20, 1971, to Jim Jeffrey and his wife Pat (née Cockburn). Jim was a well-respected farrier based at Lindean Smithy, while Pat worked as a community care assistant.

Educated at Knowepark Primary and Selkirk High School, Bruce left school at the age of 16. For the next 13 years he worked as a charge hand in Laidlaw & Fairgrieve’s dye house, until the mill closed in 2000 with the loss of 100 jobs.

An early indicator of what the future might hold came when Bruce joined the Souter Racing syndicate, before he and his father jointly bought the thoroughbred Dante’s Brook.

After ground work at Lindean, the horse was taken over to Hawick trainer Bruce Mactaggart, going on to win two races at Hexham in the 2004 season.

Bruce started a business as an independent soft drinks supplier in 2001, while still maintaining his interest in all things equestrian. He followed his father and uncle Charlie Cockburn on to the Braw Lads’ Gathering mounted events committee, later serving as its convener.

Such organisational skills stood Bruce in good stead when, in 2010, he registered as a full-time jockey’s agent, with Gary Rutherford the first rider to sign up.

The pair’s first winner was Janal, trained by Selkirk’s Stuart Coltherd, which triumphed at both Hexham and Newcastle in the 2010 season.

Bruce’s racing knowledge, trustworthiness and diplomatic skills led to him being at one time agent for no fewer than 23 jockeys, among them such well-known figures as Danny Cook, James Reveley, Sean Quinlan, Callum Bewley, Jonathan England and Ryan Mania.

Apart from horses, carpet bowling was Bruce Jeffrey’s other passion. One of his career highlights came in 1991 when he, his father Jim, John Hogarth, of Denholm, and Tom Lawrie, of Dumfries, won the Scottish Rinks title at Dumfries.

Bruce’s regular carpet bowls partner was best friend Ian Hall, of Canonbie, with whom he won the Newcastleton Rinks and Castle Douglas Pairs titles. “Bruce thrived on pressure,” said Ian. “It just didn’t faze him at all. Sometimes he even seemed to know what the opposition was doing before they did.

“My abiding memories are of the fun we had together. Bruce was a real prankster and always up for a laugh – he used to carry around a rubber hand in his bowling bag, and was always surprising folk with it!

“Bruce would use pseudonyms such as Salmon Leap or VAT 69 when entering us into competitions so as to hide our identity. We had great times together, and you couldn’t wish for a better friend.”

In his younger days Bruce travelled to watch Stow driver Errol Johnston compete in the stock car racing at Newtongrange, along with childhood friend Jason Miller – who Jim and Pat called their ‘other son’. Bruce’s father would carry out all the welding repairs on Errol’s stock car at the Smithy. Bruce was also a life-long supporter of Hibs.

At the time of his death Bruce was chairman of both Lindean hall committee and secretary of Lindean Carpet Bowling Club, and will be sorely missed by the whole Selkirk community.

Mr Jeffrey is survived by his fiancée Shelagh Hogg, to whom deepest condolences are extended.

J. D. R. S.