Author: John Berry

TWO CHAPTERS OF racing history have come to an end following the decision of Sir Michael Stoute to vacate Beech Hurst Stables and concentrate all his string in what has in recent years become his main yard, Freemason Lodge on the other (north) side of the Bury Road.

This consolidation brings to an end a huge chapter not only in the story of Stoute’s training career but also in the story of Beech Hurst, one of the historic stables whose narratives make Newmarket the historic home of horse racing that it is. Like the other stables in the Bury Road, Beech Hurst was built in the second half of the 19th century, the creation of a national rail network having meant that it became much easier for horses to be sent around the country to race far from home, which meant that the size of owners’ and trainers’ strings could justifiably increase in tandem with the opportunities to race their horses.

This in turn led to a need for more and larger premises within the country’s training centres. Cursory research appears to suggest that there may have been a trainer called Manning in Beech Hurst in the latter stages of Queen Victoria’s reign, but the first name familiar to a modern readership to operate out of Beech Hurst was Otto Madden.

Champion jockey four times between 1898 and 1904, Madden rode the winners of five British Classics, starting with Jeddah’s triumph in the Derby at Epsom in 1898 and concluding with the victory of Sunny Jane in a wartime substitute Oaks at Newmarket in 1917.

After his two retirements from the saddle (he first retired in 1909, aged 37, but resumed race riding during the war because of a shortage of jockeys, before retiring a second time in 1919) he trained in Beech Hurst. His greatest triumph there was winning the Ebor in 1925 as breeder, owner and trainer with his great mare Chapeau.

The next chapter in Beech Hurst’s story is a confusing one because the stable was known by another name (Gondola) during the tenure of Percy Allden, who was born in 1900. Allden made a flying start as an apprentice, riding his first winner (on Medley at Newbury in June 1913) aged only 13 and then winning the Queen’s Prize and the Ascot Stakes (on Broadwood) the following year.

Unfortunately the outbreak of war interrupted his burgeoning riding career and, having joined the Royal Flying Corps as soon as he was old enough to do so, he found that increased size and weight meant that he had to switch to riding under National Hunt rules after the armistice.

Percy Allden began training in Epsom in 1921 with a National Hunt licence before gaining a Jockey Club licence to train on the Flat in 1922. He went on to enjoy a long career, finally retiring in 1970 with wins in some of the biggest handicaps, including the Royal Hunt Cup, Victoria Cup and, in 1968 with the Taffy Thomas-ridden Emerilo, the Cambridgeshire.

He operated as private trainer for Mr R B Strassburger in Chantilly between 1927 and 1931 before finally coming to Newmarket in 1935, making Beech Hurst his home. However, his preference was to name any stable in which he trained ‘Gondola’, so that was the property’s name from then until 1970.

Beech Hurst was empty for a short while following Percy Allden’s retirement but that was merely a temporary hiccup as its greatest glories lay only just over the horizon. Born in Barbados (where his father enjoyed a notable career in the police force, rising to the position of Chief of Police) in October 1945, Michael Stoute came to England in 1965.

The West Indies had just been federated and the Federal Chief Justice, Sir Eric Halliwell, lived in Barbados. He hailed originally from Co. Cork in Ireland, as did Pat Rohan, who had moved to England as a young man and began training in Grove Cottage in Malton in 1959, succeeding his father-in-law Bill Dutton. Rohan was one of the most successful trainers in the country during the 1960s (in 1968 he was Britain’s leading trainer by both individual winners, 37, and races won, 52).

The Rohan and Halliwell families were neighbours in Co. Cork, and Sir Eric arranged for the 19yo Michael Stoute to come to Grove Cottage as a pupil. Michael Stoute never looked back. In Malton he was learning from a master horseman.

Armed with the skills he had developed there, he was able to secure a position in Newmarket with the former Champion Jockey Doug Smith, who began training in advance of the 1968 season in Loder (now Cedar Lodge) Stables, the first stable built in the Hamilton Road, just down the hill from Portland Lodge.

Smith was immediately successful, sending out the winner of Britain’s first Flat race of 1968 when Owen Anthony won the apprentices’ handicap at Doncaster. Three months later Smith hit the jackpot at Royal Ascot when supplying the quinella in the Royal Hunt Cup, Owen Anthony finishing second to his half-brother Golden Mean.

Stoute had joined the right man at the right time and things just fell into place. Sir Jack Jarvis, the long time incumbent of Park Lodge in Park Lane, died in November 1968 and Jarvis’ patron Lord Rosebery, impressed by Smith’s first season, asked him to extend his licence to cover the Park Lodge string as well as his own charges in Loder Stables.

Smith deputed Stoute to run things in Park Lodge while he himself remained living in Loder House. This arrangement swiftly threw Stoute into the national spotlight: within a golden three week period early in the summer, Lord Rosebery’s Sleeping Partner won the Oaks at Epsom and his Crooner won the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot, both ridden by the South African jockey John Gorton, who had been apprenticed in Durban to Jarvis’ relative (by marriage) Fred Rickaby before being brought to England to ride the Park Lodge string.

Winning a Classic with Sleeping Partner brought great kudos to both Smith and Stoute, but perhaps Crooner’s success reflected even more glory, bearing in mind that his 2yo season in 1968 had concluded with third place in a nursery at Edinburgh (now Musselburgh).

Unfortunately, possibly because of resentment about the amount of credit which Stoute was receiving for the success of the Smith-trained Park Lodge horses, Doug Smith did not continue to employ Michael Stoute for much longer. Happily, Stoute found an assistant’s position in Green Lodge with Tom Jones, then still best known as a trainer of jumpers, notwithstanding that his impending relocation to the upper reaches of the Flat trainers’ ranks was signalled by the St Leger victory of Athens Wood in September 1971, shortly before Stoute’s period of employment in the stable ended.

(Incidentally, Smith remained in charge of Park Lodge for only a couple of years after Stoute’s departure. At the end of the 1971 season Lord Rosebery terminated the arrangement and asked Bruce Hobbs to take over. This actually made more sense anyway as Hobbs lived within walking distance, training his own string in Palace House just a furlong or so down the road from Park Lodge.)

Stoute was emboldened to branch out on his own in the autumn of 1971, buying some yearlings and renting Cadland House at the foot of Warren Hill to house the string of 15 horses (five of whom were raced by West Indian-based owners) which he was in the process of assembling.

Named after the colt who had dead-heated with The Colonel in the 1828 Derby before winning the runoff, Cadland had previously been the base of Arthur ‘Fiddler’ Goodwill (who had already moved into the neighbouring and smaller Sackville House Stables before Stoute came to Newmarket) and would subsequently become the home of firstly Mick Ryan and now his son John. Stoute’s first season string in 1972 consisted of a dozen 2yos, two 3yos and the 5yo gelding Sandal, who had previously been trained in Malton by Bill Elsey and had won at Doncaster the previous September before Stoute picked him up for 5,400gns at Tattersalls Newmarket Autumn Sale.

Stoute didn’t have to wait too long before getting off the mark because Sandal, owned by the trainer’s father and ridden by Lester Piggott, won the Turn of the Lands Handicap over the straight 1m2f at the Guineas Meeting at Newmarket at the end of April.

Ironically, Pat Rohan trained the runner-up Sir Lark (and, in keeping with his genuinely sunny disposition, showed true delight on his protégé’s behalf rather than disappointment at having been beaten). Fittingly, Rohan received compensation when Sir Lark won next time at Haydock, and again at Liverpool (now Aintree, and a course which no longer stages Flat racing) in the autumn.

It was, however, the 2yos who did most to announce to the public that Michael Stoute was a rising star in the training firmament. All of the 2yos had been inexpensive yearlings except a son of the French-trained 2000 Guineas winner of 1966 Kashmir II who had cost 9,000gns.

Named Blue Cashmere, the colt was owned by Raymond Clifford-Turner, who subsequently coowned the high class Blakeney colt Electric (whose ownership must have given the cricket loving trainer a great deal of pleasure, Clifford-Turner’s partner in the horse being Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, who had captained Hampshire when the side won its first County Championship in 1961 and who subsequently became president of the MCC).

Blue Cashmere had won at Yarmouth as a 2yo before taking four races as a 3yo in 1973 including the Ayr Gold Cup, the Northumberland Sprint Trophy at Newcastle and the Trafalgar House Stakes at Ascot. Also among Stoute’s first bunch of 2yos was Alphadamus, a son of Mandamus who had cost 1,200gns as a yearling and who won twice at two, scoring at Redcar (by five lengths) and Beverley in the colours of Mrs J Mountfield.

At three Alphadamus did even better, winning four sprints including the Stewards’ Cup at Goodwood and the William Hill Gold Trophy at York, as well as lesser handicaps at Nottingham and Redcar.

Although they had won from Cadland as juveniles, Alphadamus and Blue Cashmere won their big races in 1973 from Beech Hurst. Stoute had won 13 races from his string of 15 in 1972 and it was clear that he would soon be outgrowing Cadland.

Fortunately, his wife Pat (nee Baker, and formerly one of the best race readers on the Raceform staff) was able to buy Beech Hurst at the end of 1972. This property thus became the nucleus of Michael Stoute’s training operation, and remained a key component until this autumn.

From 1973 onwards and for at least a decade, Michael Stoute’s best horses came out of Beech Hurst. The string’s numbers continued to grow through the ‘70s. The freakishly dry summer of 1976 was a big help. Frustrated by the hard ground which prevailed on the downs at Beckhampton for weeks, Jeremy Tree decided to send two of Mr J H Whitney’s most talented but more fragile horses, Intermission and Bright Finish, to Newmarket, where they could exercise on the age old tan which ran up Bury Hill and on the wood chip surface which had been laid up Long Hill.

Surprisingly, rather than choosing someone of his own generation, Tree gave the honour of taking these horses to Stoute, a decision which was richly rewarded in the autumn when Intermission won the Taylor Woodrow Charity Handicap at Ascot in September before following up in the Cambridgeshire at Newmarket, and Bright Finish won the Jockey Club Cup.

Tree’s innate inclination towards gentlemanly behaviour meant that, rather than taking the horses back to Beckhampton once the dry spell had ended as most would have done, he let them remain with Stoute through the autumn, and the pair were still trained by Stoute (albeit in regular contact with Tree) when they landed their most famous victories. Success bred success.

The wins of Intermission and Bright Finish attracted the attention of Swedish owner/breeder Sven Hanson, who sent his four yearlings in the autumn of 1976 to Stoute. One of them was Fair Salinia, who had cost 13,000gns as a yearling. She won the Gancia Stakes at Sandown on debut in September 1977 and then landed the Oaks, Irish Oaks and Yorkshire Oaks in 1978.

Another owner impressed by Stoute was Mrs E M J Charles, whose Shangamuzo had won the Doncaster Cup in 1977 when trained by Gavin Hunter. Over the winter Shangamuzo was transferred to Beech Hurst and in June 1978 he won the Gold Cup at Royal Ascot.

Most significantly, though, HH The Aga Khan IV was considering having horses in training in England for the first time, the family (which had previously used England as the principal base of its racing operation) having had its horses trained exclusively in France in recent years.

Petite Etoile, who had retired from racing in 1961 at the end of a stellar career in the care of Noel Murless in Warren Place, had been the last notable horse which the family had trained in Great Britain. Murless had retired in the autumn of 1976 so could not be re-hired, but Fair Salinia’s 3yo career had particularly impressed the Aga Khan so, when he sent some yearlings to England in the autumn of 1978, Stoute was one of the two trainers whom he chose.

(The other was Fulke Johnson Houghton, who that year had trained the Coronation Cup winner Ile De Bourbon and the champion sprinter Double Form). There were some good horses among Stoute’s first batch of Aga Khan-bred and owned yearlings but the second batch contained one who would change the trainer’s life forever: Shergar, brilliant winner of the Derby, Irish Derby and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes in 1981.

After Shergar, plenty more top class Aga Khan horses followed, and plenty more top class horses appeared for other owners too, most obviously for the Maktoum family and for HRH Queen Elizabeth II, as well as Prince Khalid Abdullah and Ballymacoll Stud. Michael Stoute had been Britain’s leading trainer numerically in 1980 and then in 1981 he became Champion Trainer for the first time.

(To date, he has won ten British trainers’ titles, the most recent one coming in 2009, in which year his most notable achievement was saddling the trifecta in the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, courtesy of Conduit, Tartan Bearer and Ask). Shergar was obviously the main contributor to the trainer’s total in 1981 and he did his racing out of Beech Hurst.

By this time the trainer had bought Freemason Lodge on the other side of the Bury Road as a second yard. Shergar had been stabled there as a 2yo, but was moved to Beech Hurst in advance of his Classic campaign. Nowadays, with Stoute (who was knighted in 1998 for, strange but true, services to tourism in Barbados) living at Freemason and having had that as his primary stable for many years, it is at first glance hard to understand Shergar moving to Beech Hurst at the end of his first season.

However, at that time the trainer was still living in Beech Hurst and that was clearly his primary stable. (Mr and Mrs Stoute subsequently separated and, although the house at Freemason Lodge had been demolished after Sir Cecil Boyd-Rochford had moved back to Ireland at the end of 1969, having retired and handed the stable over to his son-in-law Henry Cecil 12 months previously, Stoute was able to buy the adjacent residence, Harlech House, and consequently could move in there while Mrs Stoute continued and continues to live in Beech Hurst).

As time went on, one came to think of Freemason Lodge as the base of Sir Michael Stoute’s string, with Beech Hurst the second yard. Certainly, it has been the practice for many years now for the Beech Hurst string to walk across the road to join the Freemason horses for their warm-up in the covered ride in the latter property before they all head out of Freemason for their daily trip to exercise on the Heath.

However, the good horses have continued to be split between the two stables with, to name but two recent examples, 2018 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Expert Eye and 2021 Diamond Jubilee Stakes winner Dream Of Dreams having spent their careers stabled in Beech Hurst.

But now, as a result of a reduction in numbers in Stoute’s string, that arrangement has ended. The trainer’s full team is now concentrated in Freemason Lodge, and thus has ended a major chapter in Stoute’s life as well as the most glorious chapter in the history of Beech Hurst. But, looking ahead, there are surely plenty more big winners still to be trained by Sir Michael Stoute, while further glories await Beech Hurst Stables, even though we don’t yet know who its next trainer will be. No doubt we shall know soon enough, and then the stable’s next chapter will begin.