Losses force Queen's trainer to quit

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HORSE RACING may call itself the sport of kings, but it seems that even the support of the monarch is no longer a guarantee of success. Lord Huntingdon, who has prepared horses for the Queen for the past 21 years, announced yesterday that he is to give up training at the end of the season, because he cannot make it pay.

Lord William Edward Robin Hood Huntingdon is not the first trainer to find that the books do not balance, but he is certainly one of the most successful. His background, too, should have given him a head-start in the tightly knit world of the turf. His father and grandfather were trainers, and Lord Carnarvon, the Queen's racing manager, is his godfather. There are almost 70 horses in his yard at West Ilsley, in Berkshire, of which about 20 are owned by the Queen.

Lord Huntingdon said yesterday that he would need to increase his fees "by 18 per cent just to break even". The exact figures were not forthcoming, but if he charges pounds 150 per horse per week - which is roughly the industry average - it would imply a monthly deficit of almost pounds 8,000. His training yard will be sold, and his staff, many of whom followed him when he moved to West Ilsley from Newmarket in 1982, will need to find new jobs.

"I enjoy training but I also quite enjoy feeling at the end of the day that I'm getting something back," he said. "I'm always having my leg pulled about my lack of an extravagant lifestyle; I drive a J-reg Audi that's done 207,000 miles."

The level of prize-money in British racing, which is relatively low when compared with many European countries, is Lord Huntingdon's principal complaint. "The money is just not there which would persuade owners to pay realistic training fees. I'd always made it pay until the last three years, and to begin with it's quite fun when you don't have to give anything to the taxman at the end of the year, but after the second year, you find you'd like to be paying a bit of tax."

There have been many good horses at West Ilsley, including Indian Queen and Drum Taps, who between them won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot three years in a row in the early Nineties.

The Queen herself has had relatively little success, however, from a stable which she bought from Lord Weinstock 20 years ago. The irony is that the purchase was financed by the sale of Height Of Fashion, a filly and one of the best horses the Queen has owned, to Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum.

What could not have been foreseen was that Height Of Fashion would also turn out to be one of the most successful brood mares in turf history. Her offspring included Nashwan, a Derby winner, and several other top thoroughbreds. Instead of winning Classic races in the Queen's colours, though, they did so in the silks of Sheikh Hamdan.

Lord Huntingdon's arrival at West Ilsley was not without controversy. Major Dick Hern, one of the century's most successful trainers, was effectively evicted by the Queen on the advice of Lord Carnarvon, to allow Lord Huntingdon to take over. Hern had been paralysed in a hunting accident just a few years beforehand.