Priscilla Hastings: Racing trainer who bridged the gender gap in her sport
Saturday 04 September 2010
There was a reminder of two of the sport of horse racing's stereotypes with the recent death of Priscilla Hastings at the age of 90: firstly, its misogynist tendencies, and secondly the importance of a good pedigree.
And in both instances, there is a neat twist to the tale that pleased the grand old lady mightily.
Priscilla Hastings was, as recently as 1977, one of the first three women to be elected as a member of the Jockey Club, then the ruling body of British racing. She, her half-sister Ruth, Countess of Halifax, and Helen Johnson Houghton breached an all-male bastion that had stood for 225 years.
But the Jockey Club had always been slow to move with the times, introducing reforms fitfully and usually belatedly. It was 1966 before women were allowed to hold a licence to train horses, 1972 before they were allowed to ride on the Flat and 1976 over jumps. The ruling about training, forced on the Jockey Club by the High Court, came too late for Johnson Houghton, who had had to saddle her 1956 2,000 Guineas winner under the name of her stable's head man, Charles Jerdein.
Hastings, who later also held a prominent position in another male stronghold as only the second female director of the Tote, in which role she served for six years from 1984, was entitled to be a force in racing. Her maternal grandfather was the 17th Earl of Derby, one of the most influential figures in Turf history, as an owner, breeder and administrator. His only child to survive, Lady Victoria Stanley, had a relatively brief life though significant in racing terms life. Her first marriage, in 1915, was to the 5th Earl Rosebery; before his death two years later serving in Palestine they had a daughter, Ruth, who died in 1989. Lady Victoria's second marriage, in 1919, was to Sir Malcolm Bullock; their daughter Priscilla was born in 1920. Seven years later Lady Victoria was killed in an accident while out hunting with the Quorn.
In 1947 Priscilla married Peter Hastings, a man from another great aristocratic racing and sporting dynasty. His father Aubrey, third son of the 13th Earl of Huntingdon, had trained four Grand National winners and rode the first, Ascetic's Silver in 1906, himself.
In the early 1950s Hastings acquired both a second surname and his own training establishment. His wealthy uncle by marriage, Sir William Bass (one-time owner of the legendary race mare Sceptre) had no direct male heir and left him his fortune on the condition that he kept the family name going. Hastings became Hastings-Bass by deed poll and although Priscilla, at her own insistence, remained plain Hastings, the couple's children Emma, William, John and Simon took the double-barrel.
The Bass legacy facilitated the purchase in 1953 of the famous Kingsclere estate, 1,500 acres near Newbury. Hastings-Bass's tenure was tragically short – he died in 1964 of cancer at 42, the same age at which his own father had died from a heart attack after a game of polo – but highly successful. One of his most notable victories came with King's Troop, who carried his wife's black and yellow colours when he beat 38 rivals in the 1961 Hunt Cup at Royal Ascot.
Priscilla had held the reins at Kingsclere during Hasting-Bass's last illness and became a rock behind the scenes after the licence was taken over by the yard's young assistant Ian Balding, who had inherited some of the sport's most significant owners, including the Queen. Balding's career blossomed and he became family, marrying Priscilla's daughter Emma. Priscilla ran the Kingsclere stud operation; King's Troop was home-bred, as were two more Royal Ascot winners in Murrayfield, who won the Coventry Stakes as a two-year-old before finishing in the frame in the 2,000 Guineas, and handicapper Sharavogue.
Priscilla was chairman and a long-time director of her local racecourse, Newbury, where she had one of her biggest successes as an owner. Taxidermist, whom she shared with Cath Walwyn, wife of the trainer Fulke, won the 1958 Hennessy Gold Cup by a short head from the Gold Cup winner Kerstin, having also won the Whitbread Gold Cup at Sandown earlier that year. Hastings' last visit to a racecourse was to Newbury, for the Hennessy Gold Cup meeting in November last year, and the day after her death her colours were carried into third place at the Berkshire track by Cool Strike.
The Jockey Club, incidentally, no longer runs racing, having seceded governance and regulation to the newly-formed British Horseracing Authority four years ago. It is now a commercial and welfare operation, but before she died Hastings was one of only 23 female members (including Johnson Houghton) among 150.
Hastings took a keen interest and pride in the achievements of her Balding grandchildren Andrew, who now holds the licence at Kingsclere, and Clare, one of the country's most successful broadcasters, not only in racing and general sport but in wider fields. In her profession, Clare has breached what would previously have been regarded as male strongholds, a particular source of pleasure for her strong-minded grandmother.
Priscilla Victoria Bullock, racing trainer: born 28 February 1920; Director, Tote 1984-90; married 1947 Peter Hastings (later Hastings-Bass; died 1964; three sons, one daughter); died Kingsclere, Berkshire 12 August 2010.
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