Lambourn legend Hills hands reins to son
Tuesday 09 August 2011
Pedigrees count in this sport, and not just for the four-legged participants.
Next week the baton is to be passed in one of the most famous and successful of racing dynasties as Charlie Hills takes over the training licence at Faringdon Place in Lambourn from his father, Barry. Hills Snr, 74, is not so much retiring as stepping to one side but an era is nonetheless about to end.
Hills' way into the business is now part of folklore, as much a legend as the man himself has become. While serving as travelling head lad to John Oxley in Newmarket, he netted £60,000 – around £1.5m today – with a well-planned punt on his stable's Frankincense in the 1968 Lincoln. He started backing the horse at 66-1, it won at 100-8 and Hills set up his own yard on the proceeds the following year.
In the 42 years since, he has become one of the greats of the game, and one of its most respected practitioners. He has sent out nearly 3,200 winners (only the fifth in Britain, after Sir Henry Cecil, Sir Michael Stoute, Richard Hannon and John Dunlop, so to do) and allied with quantity has been quality, headed by 10 British and Irish Classics and a Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. The Derby was the one great race that eluded him; he had Rheingold and Hawaiian Sound beaten in photos and two other runners-up in Glacial Storm and Blue Stag.
His first winner, La Dolce Vita at Thirsk in April 1969, was appropriately enough named, but though his chosen career has brought him a sweet and enjoyable life, there has been nothing soft about it. Hills is a self-made man who rose from humble beginnings through hard work, skill and the shrewdest of judgement and the standards he set himself have never slipped.
But, having come through several bouts of serious illness in recent years, he is to let go the reins, even though he will still be there riding shotgun as managing director of the family company. Working with animals is, after all, more a way of life than a job. "He just has a fantastic instinct and feeling for horses," said his eldest son, John. "It's a kind of sixth sense. He can see things in horses that other people can't see."
Charlie Hills, 32, has learnt his trade working not only alongside his father but with leaders of the profession in Australia and in Newmarket, and is perfectly sensible of the responsibility of the task he is to take on. "It's going to be a lot of hard work and graft," he said yesterday. "We've got a good team here and we want to keep things going. It's a fantastic opportunity, something I've been looking to do for years, and I'm very much looking forward to it."
Racing has long been a family affair – Hills himself was the son of a stable lad – and, though he will hand over to the "& son" that has been over the Faringdon Place door for six years now, in his case his legacy is "& sons". John has his own training business and twins Michael and Richard are top-rank jockeys.
Hills has given top-level success to some of the sport's most successful owners, including with Hawaiian Sound and Ascot Gold Cup hero Gildoran in the colours of his late, close friend Robert Sangster. His most recent Classic winners, Haafhd and Ghanaati, raced for Hamdan al-Maktoum and his most recent at the top level, Redwood, for Khalid Abdullah.
The last elite runners with B W Hills next to their names will include the smart filly Angels Will Fall in the Lowther Stakes at York and, before that, Red Jazz in the Hungerford Stakes at Newbury on Saturday.
Career Peaks: Six of the trainer's finest
The Best: Rheingold
Beaten a whisker in the 1972 Derby, but produced a stunning performance to beat Allez France in the Arc a year later.
The Favourite: Further Flight
Earned his place in his trainer's heart in the 1995 Jockey Club Cup, as the only horse to win the same European Group race five times.
The First: Enstone Spark
Her shock 35-1 victory in the 1978 1,000 Guineas gave her trainer the first of five British Classics. The most recent was Ghanaati, in the same race two years ago.
The Unluckiest: Dibidale
Robbed of victory in the 1974 Oaks by a slipped saddle, which forced Willie Carson to ride bareback up the straight to finish third. Made amends in the Irish and Yorkshire Oaks.
The Fastest: Royal Applause
A champion in 1997, when he took the Royal Ascot race now known as the Golden Jubilee Stakes and the Haydock Sprint Cup.
The Toughest: Nagwa
Cheaply bought filly who notched 13 victories (from 20 runs between May and November) in 1975 as a juvenile, a modern-day record.
Chris McGrath's Nap
Arctic Cat (3.30 Ayr)
Though he has yet to win, maybe his third trainer in a short career can do the trick. Stayed on well upped in distance last time and remains on a fair mark.
Hearts And Minds (6.30 Ffos Las)
His second run, where he broke smartly and matched strides with the eventual winner until tiring, was a considerable improvement on his first and there should be more progress to come.
One To Watch
Defy The Odds (Sir H Cecil) is well-bred, well-entered, well-trained and will have been educated by her debut sixth in a good Newmarket maiden last month.
Where The Money's Going
Deacon Blues has halved in price for the Haydock Sprint Cup, challenging Dream Ahead at the head of most lists at 4-1.
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