Inevitably, given the scale of the estate, Kingsclere’s history has been a story of a succession of rich men as well as trainers. The first of these was Sir Joseph Hawley, a colourful figure of the Victorian turf, who kept strict control of stable administration and the placing of horses, employing trainers largely as glorified stud grooms. After running a very successful stable in converted farm buildings at nearby Cannons Heath for many years, with a young John Porter employed as his private trainer, Hawley built a new yard at Kingsclere in 1867. It was considerably smaller than the present yard and the trainer’s status was reflected in the tiny cottage in which he was expected to live.
In Porter, however, Hawley had found a trainer with a touch of genius and within two years he had trained a Derby winner when Blue Gown took the 1868 event at Epsom. Blue Gown went on to win the Ascot Gold Cup that same year and became the first in a long succession of top class horses to emanate from Porter’s yard at Kingsclere. Eight years after appointing Porter, Hawley died, generously including a clause in his will giving the young trainer the option to purchase the estate for £4,000, half of what it had originally cost. The ambitious Porter, who was rapidly becoming the leading trainer of his day, exercised the option and set about transforming the yard into a model of its type.
In his autobiography he describes the process: I was very anxious that the architect should embody in his designs the ideas I had formed regarding the requirements of a racing stable; so when I was convalescent (Porter had been struck down with typhoid) I obtained a drawing board, T-square, pencil and paper and set to work to prepare some plans. Porter did an excellent job. More than a century later the old yard works as well as ever. It has lasting beauty that derives from being utterly functional, with spacious airy boxes, excellent drainage and no slippery surfaces. Such is the air of permanence and solidity about the place that it seems probable that it will still be working perfectly in another hundred years.
In addition to the yard, Porter also laid down the superb gallops on Watership Down which are still used today. His famous Derby gallop, a winding valley gallop cutting through the undulations of the Downs, survives today, albeit in slightly altered form.
From the newly built yard at Kingsclere Porter’s stream of big race winners continued. The wonderful stayer Isonomy won eight major races between 1878-1880 including the Ascot Gold Cup (twice), the Doncaster and Goodwood Cups and the Queen’s Vase. In 1882 Porter had charge of two fillies, Geheimniss and Shotover, who were both considered to be serious candidates for the Oaks. Rather than run them against each other, Porter instead pitched Shotover against the colts in the Derby. It was a brave decision that paid off handsomely when she won the great race and her stablemate made it a famous double in the Oaks three days later. Following Epsom the owners of the victorious fillies sponsored a day of festivities and celebrations on the Downs for all the villagers. Kingsclere enjoyed more Derby success the following year when St Blaise triumphed at Epsom, but his achievements pail into insignificance with those of the legendary racehorse Ormonde.
Ormonde was a late developing two year old in 1885 and was fortunate in many ways to be trained by such a patient handler as John Porter. Given time to mature and develop the colt did not make the racecourse until the Autumn, but such was his undoubted talent that he ran away with the Dewhurst Stakes, one of the leading races for juveniles. As a three year old Ormonde, ridden by the great Fred Archer, came into a league of his own with wins in the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger making him one of those rarest of creatures, a ‘Triple Crown’ winner. The Champion Stakes and July Cup were amongst the highlights in his other victories and exhibited his remarkable versatility.
The facilities that had served Porter so well with Ormonde continued to pay dividends as Sainfoin was prepared to win the 1890 Derby. The following year Porter sent out Common to win the 2,000 Guineas, the Derby and the St Leger – another Triple Crown for Kingsclere. A fillies’ Triple Crown was obtained with La Fleche in 1892. A remarkable filly by any standards, she also won the Cambridgeshire, Newmarket Oaks and Nassau Stakes in the same season. Porter also had charge of the leading colt of 1892, Orme (a son of Ormonde), and whilst he did not manage to win a classic (he was the victim of a suspicious ‘poisoning’ prior to the Derby) he did win the Eclipse, Sussex and Champion Stakes as a three year old.
In 1899 a son of Orme, Flying Fox, emulated his grandsire Ormonde and Common by becoming John Porter’s third Triple Crown winner. La Roche won the 1900 Oaks for Porter and, whilst this was not his final big winner before his retirement in 1905, it was the last of his many classic winners in a career that must be recognised as one of the most remarkable of any generation.
Despite training 23 classic winners for some of the most notable people in the land, Porter’s thoughts in retirement reveal the perennial insecurity of the trainer’s lot. “Experience has proved to me that the emoluments I received as a trainer merely provided sufficient to live upon. There was no surplus to put in the bank. Any money I have saved has come to me in the form of presents from my patrons and as a result of fortunate speculations in bloodstock.”
1905 – 1964
Even before Porter’s retirement in 1905 the estate cost so much to maintain that it had been reconstituted as ‘Kingsclere Ltd’, a syndicate involving the Dukes of Portland and Westminster. After Porter’s retirement they employed William Waugh, who trained successfully at Kingsclere from 1906 to 1924. Amongst his biggest winners were Troutbeck (1906 St Leger), Winkipop (1910 1,000 Guineas) and Clarissimus (1916 2,000 Guineas). A fallow period ensued between 1924 and 1934, when training resumed under the control of Fred Butters, younger brother of the Aga Khan’s trainer, who added to the Kingsclere roll of honour by training Midday Sun to win the Derby of 1937. Two years later war broke out and Kingsclere’s gallops were silent once more.
After the war, during which time American soldiers had been stationed in Park House, the former jump jockey Evan Williams took out a licence to train at Kingsclere. Previously Williams had been secretary to Ivor Anthony at Wroughton, the stable Aubrey Hastings had made famous by training no less than four Grand National winners. Hastings’ son Peter, after learning his trade under Ivor Anthony at Wroughton for six years, bought Kingsclere in the early 1950s and took out a license to train there in 1953 when Williams retired. Peter Hastings sent out 340 winners, including winners of the Royal Hunt Cup, the Stewards’ Cup and the Cambridgeshire, before his untimely death in 1964. His licence was passed on to his assistant Ian Balding, father of current trainer Andrew.
1964 – 2003
During his 39 year spell as the trainer at Kingsclere, Ian Balding sent out over 2,000 winners, including the winners of 123 Group races. Of these, the most famous and influential was probably the great Mill Reef. Owned by the American philanthropist and staunch supporter of Kingsclere Paul Mellon, Mill Reef was an exceptional juvenile, winning the Coventry Stakes, Gimcrack Stakes and the Dewhurst Stakes in 1970 before being crowned Champion 2 year old. As a 3 year old, Mill Reef split Brigadier Gerard and My Swallow in what was one of the finest renewals of the 2,000 Guineas, before securing his own place in turf history with victories in the Derby, the Eclipse, the King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. He was deservedly named Champion Racehorse of 1971, and his trainer won the trainers’ Championship in the same year. Mill Reef raced on as a 4 year old but was plagued by virus and injury. He nevertheless won two Group 1 races, including the Prix Ganay by ten lengths, before disaster struck when he fractured a foreleg on the gallops at Kingsclere. A ten hour operation to insert screws into his leg saved his life and enabled him to retire to stud duties at The National Stud in Newmarket, where he became a hugely influential sire.
Mill Reef was, however, only the first in a long line of superstars to emerge from Park House Stables during Ian’s tenure. In 1979 another top 2 year old emerged in the shape of Mrs Penny, who took the Cherry Hinton, Lowther and Cheveley Park Stakes in her juvenile year. As a 3 year old she placed in the UK and Irish 1,000 Guineas before winning the French Oaks and Prix Vermeille and running the top class Ela Mana Mou to a length in a pulsating finish to the King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes.
In 1982 Ian recorded the first of two consecutive wins in the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud, both of which came with sons of Mill Reef owned and bred by Paul Mellon. Glint Of Gold took the spoils in 1982, with Diamond Shoal winning the following year. In 1986 another top filly came along in the diminutive Forest Flower. She won the Queen Mary, Cherry Hinton and Mill Reef Stakes before being controversially disqualified from her win in the Cheveley Park Stakes having been deemed to have interfered with an opponent during the race, despite this incident having in no way affected the result. The following year she recorded another Classic success for Kingsclere by taking the Irish 1,000 Guineas.
More Group 1 success came in 1989 when Jeff Smith’s Dashing Blade won the Dewhurst. That same year Silver Fling took the Prix de l’Abbaye for George Strawbridge, but it was a Kingsclere sprinter of Jeff Smith’s, Lochsong, who was to capture the nation’s hearts in the following years. Slow to reveal her talent, Lochsong blossomed as a 4 year old, taking the Stewards Cup, the Portland Handicap and the Ayr Gold Cup in 1992 – the first time all three of these big sprint handicaps had been won by the same horse in the same year. The following year she stepped up again, running away with the Group 1 Nunthorpe at York before recording a startling four-length victory in the Prix de l’Abbaye. She was crowned Champion Sprinter and Cartier Horse of the Year in 1993. Racing on in 1994, she took the Temple Stakes, the King’s Stand and the Prix de l’Abbaye, retaining her title as Champion Sprinter. She retired to stud and her offspring have been trained successfully from Park House, whilst her half-sister Lochangel was trained by Ian to win the Nunthorpe in 1998.
As Lochsong began dominating the sprint division another Kingsclere horse, Selkirk, was making his mark as a miler. He won the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot in 1991 en route to being crowned Champion Miler, before taking the Lockinge, the Celebration Mile and the Challenge Stakes in 1992, all by more than two lengths. The finish was much closer in the Sussex Stakes at Glorious Goodwood, where Selkirk went down by a head to Marling, but he finished the year as Champion Older Horse in Britain, and retired to stud where he was a highly successful stallion until his death in 2013.
Another influential stallion to have been trained by Ian at Kingsclere was Tagula, who won the July Stakes and the Prix Morny in 1995 as a 2 year old, also finishing 3rd in the Dewhurst. As a 3 year old he was placed in the French 2000 Guineas and the Prix de la Foret and won the Supreme Stakes at Goodwood.
Further success came in Ian’s latter years at Kingsclere, including in taking the Cesarewitch Handicap at Newmarket twice, in 1999 with Top Cees and in 2001 with Distant Prospect. That year also saw victories in the Sandown Mile with Nicobar, the Mill Reef Stakes with Firebreak, and the Brigadier Gerard Stakes with Border Arrow.
Ian’s last winner came on 18 December 2002 when Manicani won a maiden at Lingfield under Miss Leanne Masterton, then apprentice jockey but still at Park House today in her role as Travelling Head Girl.